They hope to play a key role in discussions on how to implement the 2015 Paris agreement on cutting carbon emissions and helping to prevent global warming.
Pope Francis met at the weekend with the delegation of leaders from the Pacific Island Forum to share his concerns about the impact of rising sea levels on vulnerable island, coastal and fishing communities. The pope called for global cooperation, for solidarity and strategies to address the deterioration of the environment and the health of the oceans. He blamed many of the causes of this “environmental decay” on short-sighted human activity, provoked by the exploitation of natural and human resources.
Just ahead of the papal audience, Philippa Hitchen spoke to two of the Pacific island leaders, Taneti Maamau, President of the Republic of Kiribati, and Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, at an encounter hosted by the Australian embassy to the Holy See.
Climate change is seriously affecting the livelihood of Karibati in terms of costal erosion, President Maamau says, explaining that it affects the water quality in particular. Roads are also affected in coastal areas and schools often have to be closed when there are droughts, water surges, king tides and even cyclones. These are becoming regular problems, forcing us to look at alternatives for water supplies, he says.
Climate affecting lives and livelihoods
He lists a few alternatives, such as rainwater harvesting, which is problematic as it is entirely dependent upon sufficient rainfall. Other solutions, such as desalination of seawater, are also being examined, the president says, but these new technologies are expensive in terms of both importation and maintenance.
Time is running out
President Maamau says he is looking for a bigger commitment for reducing global temperatures, especially from larger, coal producing countries. For him , the sooner the agreements are made, the better. “We can’t wait. Our people are crying out!” the president states, simply.
Gratitude for Laudato SI'
President Maamau says he finds great encouragement in Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si. “The earth is our home, our mother”, he says, and we have to take care of it. That’s the divine mandate we were given, he adds, but sometimes, we are too greedy, hoping we can take everything in our hands to satisfy our needs. But sometimes we take too much and that’s causing trouble. My message to Pope Francis is, thank you!” the President says.
Seeking to lower 2 degrees limit
Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa notes that the Pacific nations have been advocating strongly to further limit the raising of the global temperature to 1.5 degrees, rather than 2 degrees. With scientific evidence pointing to an acceleration of climate change, she says, the Pacific Island nations are hoping to show how urgent the issue is, as well as proposing realistic ideas on how to achieve the 1.5 limit.
Responding to U.S. decision
Mata’afa, who is also the Samoan minister for the Environment says “We will also have to look at whether we can strategize and organise as a community of parties” to respond to the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement.
No country can escape the effects
The deputy prime minister says that while Samoa is predominantly volcanic, other low lying countries like Tuvalu, Tokelau or Kiribati are experiencing serious impact, both in terms of encroachment of land and water tables. Several countries have already purchased land in Fiji in response to the risks, but she notes the question of sovereignty is a pressing one. “What happens to a country when they lose their land, how do you re-determine your sovereignty, maintain your cultural identities and so forth?” she asks.
Mata’afa notes these are global problems, “but the immediacy of the issue is there for us”. We’re seeing natural disasters increase all around the world and no country can claim to be free from the effects of climate change, she says.