The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development

Caring for our Common Home in Oceania

In this first post of the Caritas blog series marking Laudato Si'  Week 2020, Martin de Jong, Advocacy Advisor for Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand and coordinator for the State of the Environment for Oceania report series, reflects on the connection between our region and the global call to care for our common home.

Although climate change concerns only really reached the mainstream in the last five years, Oceania voices have been sounding the alarm for more than three decades. When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change began in 1988, the Pacific Conference of Churches was already talking about the existential threat to many island nations in the region. In the early 2000s, Caritas Oceania raised concerns within the global Caritas network about how environmental changes were affecting the lives of the most vulnerable. This led to Caritas Internationalis establishing its first environmental policy in 2006.

In 2014, Caritas members in Oceania embarked on a new venture to pull together the threads of what they were seeing and hearing in the region into an environmental advocacy report: the State of the Environment for Oceania report, released each year on 4 October, the Feast of St Francis of Assisi (patron saint for ecology).

From the beginning of the report series, St Francis’ modern namesake, Pope Francis, has been an inspiration and a guide. Our first report, Small yet Strong - Voices from Oceania on the Environment, took its title from Pope Francis’ 2013 letter Evangelii Gaudium: “Small yet strong in the love of God, like St Francis of Assisi, all of us, as Christians, are called to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, and all its peoples.”

The second report, Caring for our Common Home, draws heavily from Pope Francis’ letter on ecology, Laudato Si’, as we documented the impact of events such as supercyclone Pam on Oceania peoples. Since then, we have tracked five key issues affecting people in Oceania: extreme weather; coastal erosion and coastal flooding; environmental impacts on food and water supplies; offshore mining and drilling; and climate finance to address and prepare for climate change impacts.

The report is a collaborative effort by Caritas members in Oceania, especially those in Aotearoa New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Australia. We draw from stories, case studies and community-based research from our partners and associates in the region as we seek to influence policy and decision makers to protect and enhance the environment in Oceania. We share these stories and perspectives in a spirit of solidarity to provide hope and encouragement to all working to protect our common home, not only in Oceania, but around the world.

Drawing from indigenous and Pacific understandings and ways of being, we seek to work in a spirit of ‘talanoa’- a Pacific story-based approach of listening, understanding, embracing, acknowledging and learning to seek the common good of the region.

The unfolding story of environmental impact and response as people struggle to protect their homes and homes and livelihoods in the face of tremendous pressures continues to be told online through our report series, video, and story-maps. You can also be part of the online ‘talanoa’ through The Oceanian Facebook community.

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Tutu ana te puehu - Stirring up the dust