Coal Not Good For Humanity In The Pacific Islands

In March this year Pelenise Alofa from Kiribati Climate Action Network addressed the United Nations in Geneva about climate change. She was calling for climate change to be recognised as a human rights issue.

Ironically, just a few days later, tropical Cyclone Pam caused devastation to many Pacific Island nations, including Kiribati.

Kiribati is at the frontline of climate change. Climate change – linked sea level rises and extreme weather events are posing a serious threat to this country’s future. Its people are losing their land, their livelihoods and their culture.

Kiribati is asking highly industrialised nations to cut carbon emissions and to stop digging up more and more fossil fuels.

Last year, in one of the most unusual real estate deals ever, Kiribati bought 20 square kilometres of land in Fiji. It was in response to the effects of climate change.

 This land purchase in Fiji may be the future home for some of Kiribati’s 103,000 inhabitants – a migration with dignity option. In the meantime, Kiribati plans to use the land for food production.

Meanwhile, on another island in Newcastle, planning is underway to expand the world’s largest coal export port. A proposed fourth coal loader (T4) on Kooragang Island would increase export capacity by another 70 million tonnes annually. A record 159 million tonnes of coal was exported from Newcastle in 2014.

As Newcastle is getting closer to the point of tipping even more coal onto ships at a new coal loader, others are considering another tipping point – the point of no return in terms of atmospheric greenhouse gas levels.

Whilst some of the economic benefits of coal exports flow back to Australian shores, the effects of climate change are quite literally flowing onto the shorelines of low-lying Pacific Islands like Kiribati.

Last year a group of 30 Pacific Climate Warriors representing 12 Pacific Island nations, including Kiribati, came to Newcastle. On 17 October these ‘climate warriors’ paddled their hand-made wooden canoes onto the waters of the port of Newcastle. The Pacific climate warriors were joined by a flotilla of other canoes that formed a blockade to temporarily stop coal ships leaving the harbour.

One of the ‘warriors’ held up a sign saying, “Coal is not good for humanity”. This was in response to Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recent comment that “Coal was good for humanity”.

Many people of Kiribati and other Pacific Islands are deeply religious. In 2004 a Pacific Churches’ Consultation on Climate Change was held in Kiribati. It produced the ‘Kiribati Declaration’. This Consultation felt ‘called by God’ to:

“Call on our sisters and brothers in Christ throughout the world to act in solidarity with us to reduce the causes of humaninduced climate change”.

It is time to respond to this call and take more serious action on climate change.

David Whitson has a Master of Theology degree from Charles Sturt University. He was born and bred in Newcastle, and currently lives in Lake Macquarie. His interests include eco-spirituality and exploring coffee drinking as a spiritual discipline.  

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David Whitson

David Whitson has a Master of Theology degree from Charles Sturt University.

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