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Jubilee Statements

Monitoring the impacts of government and corporate behaviour in communities overseas.

The sinking islands of the Pacific

Release Date: 21-Dec-2007

Wealthy nations are free to select their climate change policies in alignment with their economic wellbeing and wealth, yet our neighbours in the Pacific stand on the brink of dispossession. This really begs the question - why should these people bear the immediate consequences of the developed worlds actions?

On Tuesday 18 December, The Australian Conservation Foundation and Jubilee Australia hosted an evening of presentations by several climate change refugees from the Kiribati, Torres Strait and Carterets Islands in the Pacific, on their return from the climate change discussions in Bali. The speakers brought not only a sense of urgency but also a human face to our understanding of the climate change issue.

“We are only beginning to see the tip of the iceberg of what climate change means to us”, said a speaker from Kirrabati. The Republic is comprised of 33 coral atolls which are only 2-3 meters above sea level. One day, Kiribati will disappear.

These people feel the strongest effects of climate change. Their homes are among the most vulnerable in the world. A representative from the Torres Strait Islands expressed the fear of losing her culture, identity for future generations of her people. When reflecting on the discussions in Bali she said, “We feel it on the ground as they’re talking up there.”

Another speaker, representing her people from the Carterets Island’s, voiced the hopelessness of the situation. She asked, “What is the future of the children on a drowning island? The only solution at this stage seems to be relocation.”

What emerged from the passionate and empowered speeches was a sense of immediacy. The urgency was clear when the speakers, referring to the much debated emissions targets set for 2020 and 2050, said “by then, these people are gone, they are below sea level”.

The conferences at Bali were positive, but for these people the oceans have already made inroads into their islands: erosion is rife, and food and fresh water supplies are under threat. They are experiencing the most devastating affects of a global problem.

“It’s hard when people ask us to propose solutions to the climate change problem when we did not even contribute to it”. This remark captures the unjust burden that people in the Pacific Islands bear.

The feelings of frustration and genuine fear for the homelands, culture and future generations was articulated with incredible passion by a softly spoken youth named Clare from Kiribati. When asked to speak of her experience at Bali, she spoke of the compassion and conviction of the youth attending the conferences. In Bali, Clare’s courageous sharing had brought a depth of emotion to the discussion that inspired everyone to claim ownership of the problem rather than passively accept it.

Wealthy nations are free to select their climate change policies in alignment with their economic wellbeing and wealth, yet our neighbours in the Pacific stand on the brink of dispossession. This really begs the question - why should these people bear the immediate consequences of the developed worlds actions?

The speakers from the Pacific ‘cut to the bone’ by sharing their experiences, and were able to attract incredible attention at the Bali Climate Change conference. They overcame cultural differences, timidity and language barriers to reveal the urgent need for action, not just discussion. The fire in their bellies was contagious, infectious and moving.