The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development

The Human Face of Climate Change Migration: Ursula Rakova from Carteret Islands, PNG

Event date: 
26 Jun 2015

As the Catholic Church and wider community reflect on Pope Francis’ recent message on care of our planet, climate justice advocate Ursula Rakova of Papua New Guinea gives a human face to the challenges faced in the Pacific from environmental degradation.

Ursula is a pioneer in Papua New Guinea’s environmental movement and campaigner for the survival of her people. She was born on the Carteret Islands, a small group of islands near Bougainville threatened by rising sea levels. In 2006 she set up Tulele Peisa (“Sailing in the wind on our own”) as a community-based organisation to carve out a new future for her people.

Faced with coastal erosion, flooding, and loss of traditional food sources Ursula and her community negotiated with the Bougainville Diocese of the Catholic Church for land on the mainland to resettle some of the islanders.

Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical Laudato Si’, has highlighted the plight of coastal people and the poor who may not have the financial or other resources to adapt to climate change and natural disasters.

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is working with the Diocese of Bougainville to build sustainable agricultural and fishing livelihood programmes for Carteret Islanders and mainland Bougainvilleans. It is also promoting awareness of the environmental challenges that the people of Oceania face.

During her visit to New Zealand, Ursula is also meeting fair-trade and cocoa importers to expand the markets her people are growing cocoa and other cash crops for.

“My vision is that Carteret Islanders are living sustainable livelihoods and are safe and secure where-ever they are - that they have enough land space to grow food and cash crops to sustain their family incomes,” says Ursula.

Ursula’s visit comes just two weeks after Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ has challenged Catholics and the world community to protect creation as a gift for all humanity and ensure that it flourishes to provide a sustainable future for all the world’s people and future generations.

Additional biographical information:

Ursula Rakova is a courageous woman who never stops to work despite life’s challenging adversity. Born on the tiny islet of Han on the Carteret Atoll, off shore the autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, she is carrying the burden of her people who are struggling to adapt to climate change. As a daughter of the matrilineal atoll community, she answered to her Elders’ call for action in 2006 to set up a local non-governmental organization, Tulele Peisa which means “Sailing in the wind on our own” in the local language.

Ursula is the Executive Director of Tulele Peisa and a pioneer in the environmental movement in Papua New Guinea. She coordinated the landmark legal case of the Warangoi when for the first time in the logging history in PNG, traditional landowners succeeded in suing illegal loggers and gaining compensation for a stolen resource. She was instrumental in setting up several environmental NGOs in PNG and later in Bougainville. She is well respected for her integrity, commitment and conviction to building a strong, transparent, accountable and ecologically conscious civil society movement.

She is a tireless environmental campaigner and a strong advocate of human rights and access to education for all. In 2005 Ursula set up a community schooling system to ensure young Bougainvilleans have access to on-going literary and numeracy training beyond the near dysfunctional state system. Today she runs two schools entirely from the community’s own resources.

In recent years, she has dedicated much of her time and effort to helping her atoll community to find a safer future as their atoll experiences the full force of climate change.

Ursula is a woman of vision. She walks the talk of community self-reliance. She recently founded a company called Bougainville Cocoa Net Limited through her sheer determination and courage to create a means for her people to earn an income. Ursula does not want her people to become dependent on charity of others. As many families will be resettled near cocoa farms, she sees the trade in organic cocoa as a practical and realistic economic activity for the Carteret settlers. She is well linked with the international organic cocoa and fair trade market. This will create a competitive edge to long term sustainability for the Carteret as well as the wider Bougainville cocoa growers, steering communities away from divisive and destructive large-scale projects such as logging, oil palm plantation and mining.

In 2008, Ursula received the Pride of PNG award for her contribution to the environment. Dame Carol Kidu, a highly respected sole woman MP in the PNG Parliament, said of the eight women who received the awards:


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Tutu ana te puehu - Stirring up the dust