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Caritas Australia has released the State of the Environment for Oceania 2018 Report, Waters of life, Oceans of Mercy. The report contains dozens of first-person accounts and stories relating to the impact of climate change on communities from Papua New Guinea and Kiribati to Tonga, Samoa and the Carteret Islands.
Food and water impacts
Evidence continues to flow from communities that climate change is here and now in the Pacific. Climate change is continuing to impact food and water supplies. Cyclones are increasing in their severity, with Fiji and Tonga hit particularly hard in 2018.
Increased coastal erosion and flooding arising from sea level rise are causing ongoing concern and uncertainty. Many people are being forced to relocate, but it is still largely undocumented and uncoordinated.
People across the Pacific calling on the Australian government to take urgent climate action and provide localised aid. Small-scale renewable energy projects on Taveuni island, Fiji have provided both clean drinking water and reliable electricity supply through a mix of hydro and solar power.
Village cemeteries washed away
In October 2016, king tides forced more than 160 people from their homes on Maledok Island, part of the Tanga Group in Papua New Guinea. The impact of king tides will continue to increase with sea level rise. Caritas Coordinator for Kavieng diocese Patrick Kitaun reported: “Village cemeteries washed away. A dug water hole covered with sand and other debris with the coastal vegetation cover slowly wilting and dying away following the sea water bath.”
Crops wilting and dying
“Tree crops such as coconut and betel nut trees now wilting and dying. Additionally, some terrestrial animals and a number of household livestock animals were reported dead. People now are in extreme risk from waterborne diseases and likewise, more vulnerable to sickness from the impact of the damages.”
Members of Okaba Catholic Parish in Merauke Archdiocese of Papua Province in Indonesia planting mangroves behind their sea wall in August 2018. Efforts by the parish to control coastal erosion were covered in Caritas’ 2017 environment report Turning the Tide. Photo Credit: Caritas Australia.
Sea level rise, and extreme weather
This fifth State of the Environment for Oceania report is produced in collaboration with Caritas Australia’s sister agencies in Oceania, Caritas Aoterora New Zealand, Caritas Tong, Caritas Samoa, and Caritas Papua New Guinea.
The report tracks five key environmental issues affecting the lives of Oceania’s peoples. These issues include coastal erosion/sea level rise, food and water, extreme weather events, offshore mining and drilling and climate finance.
The report also puts a human face on the consequences of climate change by sharing the stories of people across the region whose lives have been impacted by rising global temperatures. These annual reports bear witness to the stark reality that millions of people in small islands states are suffering the impacts of climate change, though they did very little to contribute to it.
More foreign debt not the answer
The reports also highlight the actions required from the Australian Government and others to respond to climate change. Climate finance and other support is urgently needed to allow people on the front lines of climate change to adapt. Rather than impose further foreign debt and burden on Pacific nations, more needs to be done to ensure effective funding through grants rather than loans, including through the Green Climate Fund.
Government’s ‘Pivot to the Pacific’
Caritas Australia welcomed the federal government’s new commitment to expand its assistance Australia’s Pacific Island neighbours but it says climate finance and grassroots aid is missing from the Federal Government’s ‘Pivot to the Pacific’.
“While the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility will address key Pacific infrastructure needs, other priorities like climate change financing and local aid are really what Pacific Islanders are calling for.” says Caritas Australia CEO, Paul O’Callaghan.
“As a former Australian High Commissioner to Samoa, I am aware that the highest policy priority presented by the Pacific’s political and Church leaders has been for Australia to demonstrate leadership in its own climate policy, particularly on national emissions and to commit a reasonable share on climate finance. The latest announcement continues to ignore that regional priority”, says Paul O’Callaghan.
There is no time to lose: We received the earth as a garden-home from the Creator; let us not pass it on to future generations as a wilderness. — Pope Francis, June 2018.
Worst affected but contributed least
“Our Pacific partners from Kiribati to Fiji are the worst affected, while having contributed the least to global warming. They look to Australia to take real action on reducing emissions, so that the region’s future is secure.
“Prime Minister Morrison is right to point to the need for improved infrastructure in the Pacific. It’s a real need and Australia is well placed to contribute well in this area over the coming decade. There are various ways to finance such development”.
Debt trap loan model
“Also, basing Australia’s new pivot to the region on a concessional loan model which was rejected by previous Australian governments because that model was found to cause debt traps for the most vulnerable countries is not an ideal policy approach.”
Mr O’Callaghan says many in the Pacific who Caritas works with have been disheartened to hear the Prime Minister announce that Australia will not be contributing more to the Green Climate Fund to assist our neighbours to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.
Australians called to speak up
Caritas Australia is encouraging all Australians to speak up in solidarity with our Pacific neighbours. Send a message to your local Member of Parliament by uploading a video on the Caritas Australia website. For full details visit the Caritas Speak Up page. You can read a two page summary of the 2018 report here or the full State of the Environment for Oceania 2018 Report, Waters of life, Oceans of Mercy here.
Caritas Oceania comprises six members, who have supported and contributed to this report in different ways, according to their ability: Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, Caritas Australia, Caritas Papua New Guinea, Caritas Samoa, Caritas Tonga and the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific (covering Pacific Islands apart from Aotearoa New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Hawai’i).
Each Caritas member is responsible to its respective local Catholic church in the region or country where it is based. They come together as Caritas Oceania to work side by side on common issues, strengthen and support each other, and provide a regional voice to the international Caritas network for global action.
End poverty, promote justice, restore dignity
Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of more than 160 members working to end poverty, promote justice and restore dignity in almost every country in the world. Caritas works in all regions of the world (Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East and North Africa, North America and Oceania). Caritas Oceania may be the smallest in the number of members, but it covers a vast part of the world, including the southern and central Pacific Ocean.
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