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The University of Southampton
Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

SMMI scientists take part in Roundtable discussion on Climate Change Migration at Lambeth Palace

Published: 4 February 2019
Climate change migration
From left to right: Prof David Sear, Dr Ivan Haigh, Marie Schlenker, Bishop William Pwaisiho.

As the impacts of global warming become more pressing, a growing number of organisations worldwide are increasingly recognising the response to climate change as a major priority on their agendas. Moved by the voices of affected people, the Anglican Church has also assumed responsibility to tackle climate change as part of its efforts to safeguard our Earth.

Following the call of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, religious leaders, diplomats, humanitarian workers, philosophers and scientists came together for a roundtable discussion at Lambeth Palace in London on 21 January 2019 to discuss the impact of climate change on small island nations and their people; and to specifically debate the challenge of “climate change refugees”.

The roundtable, chaired by The Right Reverend Dr Helen-Anne Hartley, Bishop of Ripon, Diocese of Leeds and Mr Jack Palmer-White, Anglican Communion Permanent Representative to the United Nations, focused on climate-induced displacement in small island developing states and put special emphasis on legal frameworks and climate change ethics. The University of Southampton was represented at the roundtable by Dr Ivan Haigh (FELS), Prof David Sear (FELS) and postgraduate student Marie Schlenker (FEPS).

To start off the discussion, voices from different island states were heard, including a very moving presentation by Bishop William Pwaisiho from the Solomon Islands. Bishop William showed a short film documenting the disappearance of Walande Island, once a thriving community of 1,000 inhabitants in the northeast of the country. Walande Island was decimated by a major storm in 2007, causing all the inhabitants to migrate to the main land. Representatives from Sri Lanka and the Caribbean Islands had similarly shocking stories to share.

Following the presentations of first-hand experiences with climate change in different island states, scientists illuminated the issue from a variety of different angles. Researchers from the University of Reading and the University of Lund outlined the legal and ethical frameworks of climate-induced community displacement, while Dr Ivan Haigh shared his expertise on sea-level rise and its effects on small island nations. Small island nations have been identified to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to their small size, small economies, remoteness, and extreme exposure to multiple hazards. Rising water levels, more intense storms and coral reef degradation will increasingly exacerbate coastal flooding, erosion and saltwater intrusion on small islands, thus compromising island livelihoods and triggering community relocations.

The roundtable concluded with small group discussions of participants working in similar organizations that focused on possible strategies to respond to climate change in small island states as well as worldwide and the role different organizations might play in this process. Presentations of the results of these expert groups stirred a productive plenary discussion about how to tackle climate change in the future. While solution strategies were as varied and complex as the nature of the problem, all participants agreed on close collaboration as an integral part of our response to climate change and praised the organizers of this unusual event for exploring new routes and bringing together people from diverse backgrounds to tackle the problem.

For the three attendees from the University of Southampton, the trip to London also included a visit to the trustee meeting of the Melanesian Mission UK (MMUK), an Anglican mission agency providing support to the people of the Anglican Church of Melanesia. In the spirit of collaboration emphasized at the roundtable the day before, Marie Schlenker’s multi-disciplinary PhD project “The impact of climate change and sea-level rise on Solomon Islands” was discussed, which is jointly sponsored by MMUK and the SMMI. The presence of Eliam Tangirongo, High Commissioner of the Solomon Islands, also illustrated the interest of the Solomon Islands government in the project, indicating the high importance and urgency of tackling climate change in the global community.


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Roundtable on Climate Change Migration at Lambeth Palace
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From left to right: Marie Schlenker, Prof David Sear, Eliam Tangirongo, Dr Ivan Haigh
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