Ioane Teitiota v. The Chief Executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (New Zealand Supreme Court, 2015)
Jurisdiction: New Zealand
Side A: Ioane Teitiota (Individual)
Side B: The Chief Executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (Government)
To gain refugee status
A Kiribati citizen appealed the denial of refugee status in the New Zealand High Court. The appellant argued that the effects of climate change on Kirabati, namely rising ocean levels and environmental degradation, are forcing citizens off the island. The High Court found that the impacts of climate change on Kirabati did not qualify the appellant for refugee status because the applicant was not subjected to persecution required for the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. In addition to finding a lack of serious harm or serious violation of human rights were the appellant to return to Kirabati, the court also expressed concern about expanding the scope of the Refugee Convention and opening the door to millions of people who face hardship due to climate change. The applicant appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals. In dismissing the application, the Court of Appeals noted the gravity of climate change but stated that the Refugee Convention did not appropriately address the issue. The applicant again appealed, this time before the Supreme Court of New Zealand. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts' conclusions, finding that the applicant did not qualify as a refugee under international human rights law. The Court noted, however, that its decision does not rule out the possibility "that environmental degradation resulting from climate change or other natural disasters could  create a pathway into the Refugee Convention or protected person jurisdiction."