The Pacific is among a number of regions in the world on the forefront of climate change. For those in Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, time is already running out. Their future is uncertain and they are destined to lose their home. It is a matter of when. Within the last two years Tonga, Vanuatu, Fiji and Samoa have experienced destructive category 4 and 5 cyclones. The effects of a more severe El Nino are currently being experienced in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, parts of Vanuatu and Fiji. Many continue to die of hunger due to famine. It is expected that 4.37 million people in the Pacific are likely to be affected and at risk from drought.

As the debate on climate change science and its causes rages, the reality is that there are communities (my own people) on the frontline who are suffering and experiencing first-hand the damaging and severe effects of climate change. The people of these communities are the human face (my own brothers and sisters) of rising sea levels, severe droughts, destructive cyclones and other climatic changes. These are the faces I see and know and they are, in part, my own. And it moves me to pray, advocate and act.

Tuvalu

ISLAND HOME?: A beach on Funafuti Atoll in low-lying Tuvalu, one of the Pacific Island nations most affected by climate change. PICTURE: Stefan Lins/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

"I am compelled and moved to care and pray because of my Christian conviction that the Earth is our home and that we human beings are charged with the responsibility of being good stewards of our entrusted resources. We have a responsibility to engage in good household management for all – not just a limited privileged few."

I am compelled and moved to care and join the 'Pray for Our Pacific' initiative this month for a number of reasons. Firstly, I am a Pacific Islander. Although my small island Rotuma, or my hometown in Lautoka, Fiji, are not directly under threat from climate change (yet), many members of my wider Pacific family are. My Pacific Island heritage has taught me about the nature of community and the interrelatedness and interconnectedness of life. What this means is that what affects one community of people does inevitably and eventually affect another. The Indigenous people of Australia hold this deep wisdom and they have been reminding us and continue to remind us of our deep and fragile interconnectedness and interrelatedness with the land, with the earth and each other. 

It is perhaps too easy for us to say to a Tuvuluan or I-Kiribati or a person from a severely climate impacted country to consider relocation. In response to this a Tuvulaun young man has said: “People are saying relocate to another country, if you have been affected by climate change, move elsewhere. But wherever we go climate change will always catch up with us”. Climate change is everyone’s problem and everyone’s responsibility – some more than others. For the Pacific, addressing/redressing climate change impact is about fighting for and advocating for its survival. Many Pacific Islanders will lose their home and with it the slow erosion of their identity, culture and spirituality.

Secondly, as a Pacific Island woman I have a very specific interest. Climate change exacerbates poverty and gender inequality. The poor are particularly vulnerable to climate change. The poor are affected and further disadvantaged by climate changes such as disruption to rainfall and seasonal weather patterns which affect traditional agricultural and fishing cycles by incapacitating the poor’s ability to grow and harvest food, fish and collect reliable drinking water. Large-scale climate disruption due to disasters further disturbs agricultural and other seasonal cycles that the poor depend upon.

Women are doubly marginal, as they make up 70 per cent of the worlds poor. Research has shown that women are both particularly vulnerable to climate change and they more than men bear the full brunt of climate change impact. Women are the caregivers and nurturers of communities. They are predominantly responsible for food production, household water supply and energy for heating and cooking. As climate change impacts increase, these tasks are becoming more difficult. It has been recognised, however, that women have knowledge and coping strategies that give them a practical understanding of innovation and skills to adapt to changing environmental realities as well as to contribute to the solution. Unfortunately, these strategies to deal with climate variability are still a largely untapped resource.

Finally, I am compelled and moved to care and pray because of my Christian conviction that the Earth is our home and that we human beings are charged with the responsibility of being good stewards of our entrusted resources. We have a responsibility to engage in good household management for all – not just a limited privileged few. The Earth is our only home. It is the one same planet we share. The decisions we make about how we manage, share or abuse our resources affect the lives of its human and non-human inhabitants.

As I write this, I am acutely aware of my brothers and sisters in Tuvalu with whom I spent time this week. We wrestled together with the pain and grief of the very grim and real possibility of loss of home. They challenged and made me see that migration is only a short-term answer to the problem as their situation is a result of other’s actions that they cannot control but yet bare the full brunt of their actions. They reminded me that what is required is the concerted effort by the global communities to reduce their carbon gas emission and fossil fuel reliance so as to keep the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This will give countries like Tuvalu a chance to save their home.

It is our collective responsibility as custodians and stewards of the earth to respond and act responsibly and ethically. We are tasked not only to pray, but also to advocate, act and hope that our efforts are not in vain.

Rev Dr Seforosa Carroll is manager of church partnerships in the Pacific, for UnitingWorld. Pray for Our Pacific, which runs from 2nd to 11th September, initiative is being organised by 350 Pacific, a youth-led organisation which, as part of the global 350.org group, aims to highlight the vulnerabilities of island nations to climate change. See a Sight story on the initiative here.

Rev Dr SEFOROSA CARROLL, who works with churches and communities across the Pacific for Australian mission and humanitarian organisation UnitingWorld, writes about why she's taking part in the 'Pray for Our Pacific' initiative...