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Tuesday, 14 February 2012 11:36

Talking about cricket and climate change in South Africa

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From the 1950s, the Cathedral of St George the Martyr in Cape Town became widely known as a site and focus of resistance against apartheid. It was the place where Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivered most of his sermons, and because of the congregation’s role in speaking up against injustice it became known as ‘The People’s Cathedral’.

During her few days in Cape Town, Sister Geraldine visited the cathedral. After some quiet time in the sacred space, the Good Samaritan Sister decided she was sure of one thing. And that was that she would like to meet Archbishop Tutu.

After making enquiries and some persistence on Geraldine’s part she ended up being invited to morning tea.

“Something just moved me to keep persisting,” says Geraldine. “I knew I had to meet this man who had inspired me for so long. In the end when Vivienne, Tutu’s private secretary invited me to morning tea I couldn’t believe me ears, as this was all done on the phone from the little cathedral shop where I had just bought the book ‘Tutu’ written for his 80th birthday.”

Geraldine met with the Archbishop after attending the International Human Rights Education Conference in Durban in late November last year. At this conference she presented a paper on ‘Climate Justice: A Matter of Human Rights’, which focused on the loss of land, identity and culture as a result of climate change on small, low-lying Pacific Islands.  After visiting Cape Town she travelled back to Durban for the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was held from 28 November to 9 December. The focus of this annual conference was to assess progress in dealing with climate change and to make decisions and resolutions.

“My time in Cape Town was memorable and beyond description,” says Geraldine.

One of the highlights was a reflective evening at the Aquila Game Park.

“I was struck by the vastness and magical beauty of the ever-changing landscape, in all the different lights and hues,” says Geraldine.

Visiting Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island, she was inspired by the insight she gained into the history of the South African struggle for freedom from apartheid.

Meeting Archbishop Tutu was cause for further inspiration, understanding, and some concern.

“My lack of knowledge about cricket was a source of concern for him!” jokes Geraldine, who described Desmond Tutu as small in stature, jovial and with an infectious laugh.

“We sat and chatted over a cup of coffee. How privileged I was to spend time with him and meet his delightful staff.”

Sr Geraldine Kearney at UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, Dec 2011Returning to Durban, Geraldine represented the Pacific Calling Partnership (PCP) delegation at the COP17 to the UNFCCC.  PCP advocates for the low-lying Pacific Island nations suffering the impacts of climate change, particularly Kiribati.  She was also a member of the Kiribati Government delegation and represented her Good Samaritan congregation in her role as delegate for social justice.

Over the busy 12 days she stood in solidarity with members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) at their daily meetings and met with other Kiribati Government delegates. She participated in the Interfaith Rally before the conference and the Durban Rally during the conference. She attended daily ‘Climate Action Network Australia’ meetings for updates on negotiations, and had daily contact with the Pacific Island pavilion and their many networks.

Other highlights were attending an evening for Indigenous groups from the ‘Many Strong Voices Network’ and working with fellow PCP member Claire Anterea to facilitate interviews and on-going network connections and awareness-raising. 

The major outcome of the conference was nearly 200 countries signing a deal (Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) to work towards a legal agreement on the climate by 2015, which would come into force from 2020.

Geraldine says while she was impressed with the leadership of the EU at the conference she was somewhat perturbed that the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action was targeted to be in place only by 2015.

“I’m afraid I see a greater urgency,” she says. “However I am optimistic that at least the parties reached an agreement towards a legally binding instrument that will hopefully be implemented and embraced by all countries.

“We need to ensure that the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action delivers a strong legal instrument by 2015, and it is imperative that all of us, without exception, muster the necessary ambition and political will to keep global warming as far below 2 degree C as possible.”

During her time in Durban, Geraldine stayed with the Dominican Sisters who she says were abundant and gracious in their hospitality.

“Each evening they were eager to hear of the current negotiations and issues raised,” says Geraldine.  “They were most supportive and were a source of strength and inspiration.”

An added bonus was being able to visit some of the Dominican Sisters’ ministries with displaced families located on the terraced outskirts of Durban.

“My days in Durban were blessed and enriching, demanding and provocative,” says Geraldine.

“As delegate for Social Justice in my congregation, and in my role on various committees, I continue to be impelled to stand for the voiceless.

“I also continue to be inspired by those who have fought long and courageously for the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed, and whose undaunted spirit moves me ever forward.”