Cultural and National Identity in the Face of Climate Change: A Case Study of I-Kiribati Migrants in New Zealand

Climate change Humanities Arts and Social Science (HASS) Forced migration Environmental refugees New Zealand Kiribati

Low-lying atoll countries are currently amongst the first nations to experience the effects of climate change, such as drought, loss of fresh water, rising sea-levels, coral bleaching and stronger storms. The environmental condition in low-lying Pacific countries such as the Republic of Kiribati is affecting daily life and is leading to a situation where residents may face permanent migration to more hospitable lands. While the link between environmental degradation and conflict remains ambiguous, the possibility of forced migration due to climate change may lead to competition for access to territorial resources belonging to environmentally affected countries.To address the interlacing of human migration and climate change, the present study investigated issues pertaining to the cultural and national identity of Kiribati citizens (known as "I-Kiribati") living in New Zealand, and their perceptions of whether rising sea-levels threaten their national sovereignty and cultural identity. A literature review and in-depth interviews with I-Kiribati permanent migrants in New Zealand comprise the data of this thesis. Supplementary interviews with non-I-Kiribati individuals (husbands of I-Kiribati migrants and individuals working with Pacifica migrants) were also analysed to give further information on both Kiribati as a culture as well as New Zealand's immigration practices in relation to Pacifica cultures.This investigation reports two major findings:1The I-Kiribati respondents expressed the importance of keeping their cultural traditions and are mindful of the risk of losing their cultural identity through migration. To mitigate this risk, the I-Kiribati interviewees report that they are actively trying hard to teach their traditions to younger generations of I-Kiribati in New Zealand. Respondents also indicated that New Zealand is a hospitable country where migrants feel comfortable practicing their culture and traditions. As such, New Zealand might be a preferred destination for environmental migrants from Pacific Island countries. 2Given that I-Kiribati are at risk of losing their maritime territories due to rising sea-levels, Kiribati's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is particularly at risk of being exploited by interested nations. As such, any future policies created to manage environmental migration might be influenced by the interest of powerful nations that may create policies with their own national interests in mind. In conclusion, if environmental migration is not managed in a manner that values the culture, human rights, and environment of those affected, the potential for conflict might increase. Therefore, the policies that are created today will shape the future consequences for vulnerable populations such as those from Pacific Island countries like Kiribati.

Publication Details