The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development

Oceania voices on environment loud and strong in Caritas report to be launched

Event date: 
24 Sep 2014

While money and energy continues to be spent on global talks about climate change, Pacific islanders are scrambling to build sea walls out of sticks, stones, shells and coral, to protect their lands and homes from erosion and rising sea levels.

This is one of the findings of a Caritas report, Small yet strong: Voices from Oceania on the environment, to be launched at St Peter Chanel Catholic Church, Clover Park, Auckland on October 4 (St Francis Day).

“Vulnerable people throughout Oceania are living every day with and adapting to environmental changes and challenges. They are actively striving to overcome environmental problems not of their making and beyond their control,” says Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand director Julianne Hickey.

“We need to support their efforts. All of us living in this region need to protect the precious environment of Oceania for present and future generations. And we need global fora such as the upcoming United Nations Climate Summit on 23 September in New York to find agreement on ways to limit further environmental damage.

“The people most affected – at grass roots level and on the coastal edge – must be part of those discussions,” says Mrs Hickey.

The report draws from interviews conducted by Caritas with people across Oceania at grass roots and coastal edge level on the environmental challenges they face. It explores what people are experiencing, how they are responding and what they want to happen.

Keynote speakers at the launch include Amelia Ma’afu from Tonga, who has seen firsthand rising sea levels eating away at homes and coconut palms on the low-lying islands of Ha’apai. As Programmes Coordinator and Climate Change Officer for Caritas Tonga, she will also speak about innovative climate change adaptation in Tonga that combines traditional local knowledge of plants and weather warnings with scientific observations.

“This report gives a voice to those affected by environmental changes in Oceania, and looks at how people are responding to those challenges and what solutions are needed,” says Mrs Hickey.

“It’s a people’s voice perspective –not a scientific or economic assessment. It also touches on environmental experiences in Australia and New Zealand.”

A second keynote speaker, Tihikura Hohaia, will detail how the Parihaka community in Taranaki struggles to exercise its kaitiakitanga (environmental guardianship) to protect traditional food sources and waterways from resource management decisions.

Other stories and experiences in the report show people in Oceania facing large-scale industrial mining, forestry and commercial plantations, and the loss of food crops, water supplies and stunning landscapes.

“Oceania is a priority region for our work to promote justice, peace and truly human development,” says Mrs Hickey, “and environmental issues are at the forefront of people’s concerns in the communities with whom we work – in advocacy, development and humanitarian aid programmes.”

“This report raises community awareness of environmental issues and climate change in our region, and will help us promote sustainability of natural resources and advocate against environmental injustice, to protect our world for present and future generations.”

The report recommends action by local and central governments, communities and individuals, including: ensuring resources are available for the most poor and vulnerable communities, and they can participate in decision making about their future; limiting the impact of extractive industries, while encouraging investment in renewable sources of energy; and promoting integrated thinking and action for a comprehensive response.

As a Catholic agency, Caritas understands the environment as God’s gift, to be treasured and protected for the sake of the poorest and most vulnerable, both today and for future generations. God entrusted all of creation to human responsibility, charging us to care for its harmony and development

“In his inaugural homily last year, Pope Francis called on us all to “be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment”.

Copies of the report will be available online or from the Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand office in Wellington from 4 October, 2014.

Event:                   Launch of “Small yet strong: Voices from Oceania on the environment” report

Date:                     Saturday, 4 October, 2014

Times:                                  11am - 4:15pm

Location:             St Peter Chanel Catholic Church, Clover Park

44 Boundary Road, Auckland, New Zealand 2023

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