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Thursday, 02 February 2017 10:30

Oceania bishops appeal for “courageous, far-sighted governance” of climate action in the Pacific

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sea level rise pacificThe November 2016 declaration of the Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania appealed for “courageous, far-sighted governance shaped by the principles of the common good and justice for all human persons” in climate action in the Pacific.

Ecojesuit has published the November 2016 declaration of the Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania as they seek to connect the islands and communities of Oceania to the climate change discussions globally, especially the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement and the forthcoming Group of Twenty (G20) meeting in Hamburg, Germany in July 2017.

Declaration of the Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania, November 2016

“The Executive Committee of the Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania is made up of representatives of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Australia, CEPAC (the Pacific Island Nations), New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. We come from a multitude of island nation states spread throughout the Pacific.

“‘What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?’ (LS 160) Pope Francis links this question in his very timely encyclical letter Laudato si’ with the fundamental question of the values which guide our behavior and decision making and actions. The Pope emphasizes that what is ultimately at stake is ‘our own dignity’ (LS 160) as human beings, and therefore as politicians and business people, as religious leaders and members of civic society movements.

“As Bishops we are inspired by the noble conviction that we are one single human family, living in our common home, the earth, for which we must take care (cf. LS 52). We hope that this message from Pope Francis will inspire other leaders too. ‘The climate is a common good, belonging to all, and meant for all’ (LS 23) binds and obligates us all, even if we have differentiated responsibilities.

“No person is exempt from responsibility for the climate. The Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania is encouraged by the COP21 adoption of the Paris Agreement in December 2015. International efforts to confront human-induced climate change gives hope to our island nations including the inhabitants of the vulnerable coastal areas. Those hopes are pinned on the fact that the Paris Agreement contains the specific aim ‘to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels.’ (Art. 2) Such concrete aims, on the part of world leaders, support the human dignity about which Pope Francis talks in his encyclical.

“Now we await the implementation of the Paris Agreement. We are already running out of time. Hearing the cry of the excluded, the poor and the earth (cf. LS 49), we urge political leaders to implement the Agreement immediately. A rapid shift to a post-carbon climate resilient development system is surely indispensable to that response. The more we delay, the more will be the cost whether social, economic, ecological or political.

“As Bishops, it is nothing more and nothing less than the well-being of humanity and of the future generations that we have at heart and so we too cry out for action. Of particular concern to us are rising sea levels, unusual rainfall patterns, high tides and their devastating impact, droughts and floods, unpredictable growing seasons and ocean acidification. These are affecting many of our communities in a harmful way, especially when there is a combination of some of these phenomena.

“We mention just a couple of examples from our region: In March, 2015, Cyclone Pam affected Vanuatu, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands. Tuvalu was particularly affected with half of the entire population badly hit, crops wiped out, and the hospital and clinics destroyed, with pregnant women being evacuated, etc. ‘We know, for many people, our islands are too small and too insignificant. But on these islands are living human beings. We cannot permit that the future of our children be destroyed’ (PM Enele Sopoaga of Tuvalu, in his speech at Rome, Conference on Laudato si’, July 2015). Typhoon Haiyan affected 14 million people in the Philippines, destroying 1.1 million homes, caused more than 6,000 deaths, and immense costs of infrastructure. Indeed, the entire Pacific region is under threat from the indisputable fact of rising sea levels. Examples include the Carteret Islands, Fead Islands, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Mortlock Islands, Nukumanu Islands, the Tokelau Islands, and Tuvalu. Efforts to build seawalls are largely ineffective against the rising tides and consequently, already scarce fertile soil and cultivation areas are being destroyed rapidly. Salt water intrusion also causes the salinization of drinking water, posing a threat to the health of coastal communities, especially to pregnant women and ‘causing death to small children.’ (Bishop Paul Mea of Kiribati)

“The proposal of relocation of communities seems a generous one, but it should not be forgotten that no family or indeed entire cultural grouping chooses to be uprooted. ‘We cannot really have a Marshallese culture and a Marshallese way of being in a different land.’ (Hilda Heine, President of the Marshall Islands) Indeed, piecemeal solutions disguise the fundamental global challenge to address root causes of climate change specially greenhouse gas emissions.

“Protection of the atmosphere, the oceans and the rainforests (Papua New Guinea belongs to the mere few countries of the world which still count for extensive tropical rain forest) are powerful examples of the need for political representatives and leaders of nations to take responsibility for the wellbeing of peoples beyond their own economic and political interests. This requires courageous, far-sighted governance shaped by the principles of the common good and justice for all human persons. The implications are far reaching and include, as many voices in trade circles themselves as well as science foretell, the need to transform the current world economic model in the next 30 -50 years, otherwise it would not be possible to keep climate change in a manageable dimension.

“Any pretense to outsource the costs of climate change to future generations is irresponsible and again amounts to cowardly delay tactics. This is not only true for Oceania, and other vulnerable coastal areas, but for the planet as a whole. We stress that putting Oceania and other regions which have hardly contributed to global emissions at risk would be unjust and shameful to the family of nations especially as feasible alternatives exist. On the other hand, limiting global warming to 1.5 degree centigrade would generate real hope for the survival of these people and costs are comparatively moderate. ‘Political and economic leaders have to face the fact that the climate discussions are about survival.’ (Anote Tong, former President of Kiribati)

“We Bishops commit ourselves to encourage our own people, leaders included, to do their part to foster sustainable and equitable development and economic policies in our region and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero as soon as possible, or at least by the middle of the century.

“We implore world leaders, especially the G20 in their next meeting in 2017, to take immediate measures for implementing the Paris Agreement and thereby to promote integral ecology and the protection of the earth, our common home, and the wellbeing of all nations, especially the most vulnerable (cf.LS13; Chapter: V).”

The Declaration was signed by the following:

Cardinal John Ribat MSC (President), Archbishop of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
Archbishop Michel Calvet SM, Archbishop of Noumea, New Caledonia
Bishop John Bosco Baremes SM, Bishop of Port Vila, Vanuatu
Bishop Colin Campbell, Bishop of Dunedin, New Zealand
Bishop Luciano Capelli SDB, Bishop of Gizo, Solomon Islands
Bishop Charles Drennan, Bishop of Palmerston North, New Zealand
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, Australia
Bishop Robert McGuckin, Bishop of Toowoomba, Australia

This was first published on 15 January 2017 in Ecojesuit.

Watch these two short videos featuring front line stories on the impact of climate change on Kiribati and other communities.