Climate change a present threat to Pacific nations

August 2, 2009

Speakers from Micronesia, Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Torres Strait Islands described how climate change affects their everyday lives at meetings of 180 people in Brisbane on July 28 and 170 people in Melbourne on July 30

Climate change has meant tidal surges now breach high sea walls, coast lines are being steadily washed away and staple crops and underground water sources are lost to rising sea levels. Diseases such as Dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis have returned to many Pacific islands.

Pelenise Alofa Pilitati from Kiribati said her people might be displaced by rising sea levels. "This is the last night you can help your brothers, now, right now, today. What will you do for your brother, for your Pacific family?" she asked. Pilitati said Pacific Islanders did not want relocation; they wanted the global warming problem fixed.

Pilitati comes from the Barnaba Island in Kiribati. The Barnaban people have been relocated twice before — once by the Japanese during World War II, and a second time by the Australian and New Zealand governments, which wanted the island for phosphate mining.

In the second relocation, all Barnaban people were relocated to Fiji. Still today, the Barnaban people want to return.

At the Melbourne meeting, Reverend Tafue Lusama from the Tuvalu Climate Action Network showed a slide of a community hall which was originally built on dry land. Now it is half underwater at high tide. People must plan festivals to coincide with low tide or paddle to the community hall.

Marstella Jack, the former attorney-general of Micronesia, said a recent tidal surge wiped out Micronesia's entire food and cash crops. Many Pacific Islanders don't have a regular income so they rely on what they grow. Many islands did not receive emergency food supplies for three months.

"Why did we come here? It is human nature to turn to your neighbours for help", said Jack. "Present funding ends up in the pockets of consultants. We need funding for sea walls, for adaptation. We need funding that ends up in our communities."

The speakers made an impassioned plea for the world's governments, including Australia, to set binding emissions reduction targets, with a minimum 40% cut in CO2 emissions by 2020.

In Brisbane, Greenpeace's Trish Harrup said: "Shareholder profits are being placed above Pacific Nation survival, and it is not good enough, not good enough from a nation that thought it was voting for real change in climate policy. All it will take for entire Pacific Nations to disappear is for good people to do nothing."

The meeting was part of a speaking tour, titled Voices from the Frontline: Climate change and the Pacific, co-organised by Oxfam and Greenpeace.

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