UN University director: ‘Biggest polluters should issue climate passports’

Dirk Messner, director of the Institute for Environment and Human Security of United Nations University in Bonn.

Climate change-related migration is a big issue at COP24. The idea, which involves issuing passports to the citizens of small Pacific island countries at risk of disappearing, is making its beginnings. EURACTIV France reports.

Professor Dirk Messner is the director of the Institute for Environment and Human Security of United Nations University in Bonn. He was also formerly the Director of the German Development Institute.

What does this idea of issuing climate passports consist of?

Some countries will be devastated by climate change, beginning with the rising sea levels. The Pacific island countries will be the first to be affected. In order to avoid these people becoming stateless, we suggest that the UN supports the idea of having a climate passport which polluting states would issue to climate refugees. When your territory disappears, you also lose your citizenship. And your rights. This is the first time in history that territories are disappearing.

How did this idea come about?

There are already many reports on the topic, there have been conferences at the Vatican. At the German climate council, we have already taken this idea and put it forward to the government. The topic is now in the arena!

How has the EU responded to this proposal?

It’s a controversial subject because we have heated debate on the issue of migration in Europe, and we know that it will get worse with climate refugees.

Our suggestion is not to ignore this, or to head towards a crisis and then to manage it afterwards, we need to implement preventive measures. Such as this climate passport.

Who should issue these passports?

Currently, Australia and New Zealand issue some visas to inhabitants of the Pacific island countries, but it’s not enough.

We believe that the countries that have contributed the most to climate change have to offer citizenship to the refugees. The United States, Europe and China are those most responsible for climate change, so they are the ones who have act, according to the polluter pays principle.

How will this passport work on a technical level?

We draw an analogy with the idea of Nansen passports, which were given to stateless persons after the First World War. More than 50 governments accepted the idea of having these passports for people who had lost their homes because the borders had changed. They had become stateless persons and a new citizenship was offered to them: this is a comparable situation.

How long will it take to set up such a passport?

There’s already an international debate and I hope that, gradually, by realising that every state could potentially be affected by this issue of climate migration, the states will join this initiative one by one.

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