Press Release – Expert Panel: Climate Change, Migration and Justice

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Wednesday 26 February, 6.30pm – 8.00pm: Copland Lecture Theatre, ANU

The Canberra Refugee Action Campaign is pleased to host a public meeting at which three experts will provide insights gained through their years of experience and research. The panel will explore the science of climate change, the current and potential impacts in our region and the issues that it raises for justice and the law.

Arguably Australia’s leading climate scientist, Professor Will Steffen, will lead the panel which also consists of Dr Fanny Thornton and Dr George Carter. Dr Thornton recently published a book on the international implications of the displacement of people. Dr Carter – of Pacific Islands heritage – has worked on the issue in the region.

Professor Steffen said “The risks of climate change, particularly from more frequent and intense extreme events, are accelerating as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. The most vulnerable people around the world are particularly impacted, increasing the risk of migration and conflict.”

Dr Thornton said that our part of the world was likely to be heavily affected. “In our region, several low-lying Pacific islands are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and thus displacement. One figure puts 350,000 islanders in the region in the line of accelerating sea level rise.”

One of the organisers of the meeting, Dr John Minns, suggested that the issues of refugees and of climate change were becoming increasingly linked. He said “The World Bank has predicted that 140 million people are likely to be forced to move as a result of climate change by 2050. This will provide a challenge to our accepted concepts of justice and should not only be seen through the lens of national security. If we treat these people as Australia currently deals with refugees, it will be a humanitarian disaster. We need better and very different policies both on climate and on refugees.”

The meeting, titled “Climate Refugees”, is open to all and there is no charge for admission.

About Prof. Will Steffen:

Emeritus Professor Will Steffen is an Earth System scientist. He is a Councillor on the publicly funded Climate Council of Australia that delivers independent expert information about climate change. He is also an Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University (ANU); Canberra, a Senior Fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden; and a member of the Anthropocene Working Group. From 1998 to mid-2004, Steffen was Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, based in Stockholm. His research interests span a broad range within Earth System science, with an emphasis on sustainability and climate change.

About Dr. Fanny Thornton:

Dr Fanny Thornton gained a PhD in Public International Law from the College of Law at the Australian National University (ANU) in 2014. She is Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Canberra. Her research concerns legal and policy perspectives in the area of human migration and displacement resulting from anthropogenic climate change. With her research collaborators, she has been awarded funding by the Australian Research Council and the National Geographic Society to work on issues connected to this. Dr Thornton published a book on the topic of climate change, human migration/displacement and international law with Oxford University Press in 2018. She works with international organisations including the International Organisation for Migration and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Dr Thornton teaches in the areas of Public International Law, Human Rights Law, Legal Theory, Legal Systems, and Law Foundations. 

About Dr. George Carter:

Dr George Carter is a Research Fellow in Geopolitics and Regionalism at the Department of Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University. His research interests explore Pacific island states’ influence and decision-making processes: from multilateral climate change negotiations, foreign policy making and geopolitical security interests in the region around climate change, to environment and human security. He lectures in international relations, diplomacy, security, environment and climate change policy and Pacific studies. His research and teaching interests are a product of his education and work experience, especially his Samoan upbringing with a rich Tuvaluan/i-Kiribati/Chinese/British ancestry.

About the Canberra Refugee Action Campaign:

The Canberra Refugee Action Campaign (RAC) is part of a network of concerned citizens around Australia seeking the fair and humane treatment of refugees. RAC is composed of individuals from a broad range of backgrounds and is not associated with any political party.