Stand for tomorrow

“THE destruction of the earth’s environment is the human rights challenge of our time.”

These are the words of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who added that the worst consequences of a warming planet were “being visited on the world’s poor.”

“Over the 25 years that climate change has been on the world’s agenda, global emissions have risen unchecked while real world impacts have taken hold in earnest. Time is running out.

“We are already experiencing loss of life and livelihood due to intensified storms, shortage of fresh water, spread of disease, rising food prices, and the creation of climate refugees.

“The most devastating effects are visited on the poor, those with no involvement in creating the problem. A deep injustice.”

Archbishop Tutu calls for the same strategies that were so effective in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, sanctions and boycotts against polluters. He has called for broad-based collective action in what he believes is a moral movement opposing unethical corporations whose impetus towards profit outweighs all other concerns, including the unfolding ecological crisis.

He is not alone in speaking out and urging for action.

Last week at the United Nations General Assembly, leaders from small island nations used their time on the world stage to urge concrete action on addressing climate change not just as a matter of policy but as a matter of the very existence of their land, their people and their way of life.

In their addresses to the UN General Assembly, King Tupou IV of Tonga, Fijian Prime Minister Commodore (Ret) Josaia V Bainimarama, and Prime Minister Enele Sosene Sopoaga of Tuvalu, all reaffirmed their commitment to the fight against climate change and for sustainable development amid growing environmental challenges for small island developing states (SIDS).

King Tupou called on Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a special representative on climate change and security “to research this linkage and report back to member states”.

Mr Bainimarama called on neighbouring member states to urgently unite in the implementation of more sustainable and climate-friendly policies, while also criticising industrialised nations for not doing more to reduce their impact on the environment.

“History will judge the world’s major carbon emitters extremely harshly unless they take immediate and comprehensive steps to reduce emissions. It is simply not acceptable — purely in moral terms — for the world to allow the small island developing states to sink slowly beneath the waves because of the selfish determination of industrialised nations to protect their own economies,” he continued.

Tuvalu’s PM Enele Sosene Sopoaga warned General Assembly delegates: “Tuvalu’s security and survival and the future and human rights of its citizens are seriously being compromised. We cannot continue along this path.” He suggested an “urgent need for reforms” in the UN Security Council and the expansion of the body’s agenda to include climate change as a central issue.

Earlier, a young Pacific Island mother’s passionate speech and poem about climate change moved world leaders attending the United Nations Climate Summit to tears.

Twenty-six-year-old Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner of the Marshall Islands read a poem, Dear Matafele Peinem, in which she promises her baby daughter that her home won’t be taken away by rising sea levels.

Before reading her poem, Jetnil-Kijiner testified to the stark reality of climate change and its impacts not only in the Pacific, but to other vulnerable nations around the world.

“Those of us from Oceania are already experiencing it first-hand,” she told world leaders. “We’ve seen waves crashing into our homes … We look at our children and wonder how they will know themselves or their culture should we lose our islands.”

She added: “We need a radical change of course. It means ending carbon pollution within my lifetime. It means supporting those of us most affected to prepare for unavoidable climate impacts. And it means taking responsibility for irreversible loss and damage caused by greenhouse gas emissions.”

Her poem echoes the call of Archbishop Tutu for collective actions of, “hands reaching out, fists raising up, banners unfurling, megaphones booming”.

“And we are canoes blocking coal ships.

We are the radiance of solar villages.

We are the rich clean soil of the farmer’s past.

We are petitions blooming from teenage fingertips.

We are families biking, recycling, reusing, engineers dreaming, designing, building, artists painting, dancing, writing.

We are spreading the word.

And there are thousands out on the street, marching with signs, hand in hand chanting for change NOW.

Because we deserve to do more than just survive, we deserve to thrive.”

In a fortnight’s time, three traditionally sailed canoes from Fiji, Samoa and Cook Islands will depart Suva for Sydney, where with another canoe from Aotearoa, they will present the Pacific’s message to the World Parks Congress. Their journey is a call for the world to be guided by nature.

The time is well upon all Fijians to join hands and make a stand to ensure there is a tomorrow for our children and their children. This is an opportunity for the government, NGOs, the church and other communities of faith and civil society to come together to work to address a common threat.

If we want our children to sleep in peace, they need to know there is a future to wake up to. They need to know that, we won’t let them down.

“Simplicity, serenity, spontaneity.”

* Reverend James Bhagwan is the secretary for Communication and Overseas Mission, Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.