'Sun Come Up' examines fate of Pacific Islands of Carteret

The 2011 Academy Awards documentary film categories were filled with nominees who have focused on controversial environmental themes. 'Sun Come Up,' by Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger, was an early favorite in the documentary short category examining the fate of the Pacific Islands of Carteret whose people have become the globe’s first “climate refugees.”

The Carteret Islands are located off the coast of Papua New Guinea and were home to approx. 2,500 people. Haven’t heard of them? Don’t worry, you don’t need to brush up on your geography.

Most people haven’t heard of them. Barely visible on most maps, in a few short years, they will not be on any at all.

Some scientists and experts believe volcanic activity and earthquakes are responsible for the sinking of the islands. Others point to the fluctuating nature of the natural life cycle of an atoll (an island that it constructed of coral and encircles a lagoon). Past removals of mangrove trees that kept the shoreline solid and acted as protection against the ocean have also contributed to the environmental destruction.Whether the situation on the Carteret Islands is because of rising sea levels from climate change or a shifting of the Earth is uncertain. What is certain? The people who live there, will not be living there much longer.

CARE International warns that displacement due to global warming will be unprecedented

A report by UN University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security, CARE International and Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network warns that displacement due to global warming will be unprecedented.

It estimates that by 2050 there may be 200 million environmentally-induced migrants. However, the exact number of people that will be on the move by mid-century is unknown.Today there are over 214 million migrants globally -- that substantial migration has now given rise to border conflicts and national security concerns.

Carteret Islands one of the first to be displaced by climate change

“While human migration and displacement is usually the result of multiple factors, the influence of climate change in people’s decision to give up their livelihoods and leave their homes is growing, Bougainville, ” says Dr. Charles Ehrhart, CARE International’s Climate Change Coordinator and one of the report’s authors.

The Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea is one of the first island communities to be displaced by climate change and is currently being relocated to the large Bougainville. The relocation efforts have suffered from a lack of funding and resistance from receiving communities.For now, climate refugees are not recognized by international law because they don’t meet the requirements of the 1951 Geneva Convention which considers “refugees to be someone fleeing violence or persecution."

Today, many experts want the Geneva Convention to be revised to legally recognize the status and conditions of climate refugees.

This would force countries to legally recognize their status and condition, and would then be bound to look after this group of people.However, recognizing that some people are climate refugees means acknowledging responsibility and asking who is to blame. Something many people are finding it hard to deal with.