Climate change is forcing populations to move from their homes and sometimes their countries, due to sea-levels rising, ocean acidification and more extreme weather events, such as floods and severe droughts.
Our Pacific neighbours are particularly vulnerable, so should New Zealand be taking an active role in addressing issues around climate change and population movement?
Three hundred high school students from eight schools in Waikato and Bay of Plenty came together at the University of Waikato to discuss the plight of climate refugees and put forward their ideas about how New Zealand could contribute to finding solutions.
The event was hosted by the University’s School of Social Sciences, led by Dr Patrick Barrett and Professor Priya Kurian, with presentations from other social scientists. They outlined the impacts of climate change from several angles, including climate justice, the Pacific context, migration and the impact and implications for countries and their peoples.
Professor Kurian says they gave the students some tough questions to consider, and once they’d heard from the social scientists, they broke into groups to come up with “social actions for climate refugees”.
Each group nominated a spokesperson to present their goals in two and a half minutes, how they’d action them and the challenges they anticipated to achieve them.
Dr Barrett says the quality of student presentations was excellent and we were struck by the passion and careful thought they brought to their analysis. They really got the idea that addressing climate change will require social and political action.”
One of the key organisers, Christina Nicolaas who works at St Paul’s Collegiate in Hamilton, says the wānanga was useful from two perspectives. “The students were challenged to think critically about a global issue that’s right on the doorstep of Aotearoa, and they were introduced to the university environment, a place many aspire to attend but haven’t yet made a tangible connection with.”
Ms Nicolaas canvassed students for feedback and said the students were overwhelmingly positive.
Students from Edgecumbe College said: “Just hearing other schools’ thoughts on one of the problems our world faces which is 'climate change…’ was great.”
“It was really useful… getting to hear what others had to say about climate change that is happening to our Earth today.”
And from Tauranga Girls' College: “We loved it!”
“The programme format was varied and engaging and very relevant to our inquiry.”
“We … enjoyed learning 'off site' and [it was] a wonderful location to showcase.”
Professor Kurian says the University is keen to repeat the secondary schools’ day. “Absolutely – we are hoping to make it a regular event. We’re interested in demonstrating to young people the critical role of social sciences in addressing the big issues facing the world.”