Martin de Jong
Small yet strong voices from Oceania will be heard at the United Nations Climate Conference in Lima, Peru, 1–12 December, 2014.
Amelia Ma’afu, Caritas Tonga’s Programmes Co-ordinator and Climate Change Officer, part of an international Caritas delegation at the conference, will take ‘voices’ gathered together in Small yet strong: Voices from Oceania on the environment, a report published by Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand last month.
At its launch in Auckland, Mrs Ma’afu said Tonga was experiencing a three-month drought. ‘The government is urging water conservation right across the country.’
Caritas Tonga was providing emergency water for people with dry tanks, as the country headed towards an El Niño cycle likely to bring drier weather and more cyclones than usual.
It highlighted Tonga’s vulnerability, shared by all Pacific islands, to both natural disasters and climate-change impacts.
Mrs Ma’afu also spoke of coastal erosion and salt-water intrusion of groundwater due to sea-level rise.
‘Coastal communities are facing relocation but there are complicated land issues,’ she said, while plantation farmers were affected by greater sea spray and changes in weather patterns.
Small yet strong includes people’s experience and response to a range of environmental issues across Oceania such as mining and logging impacts, waste disposal and poisons, and the risks posed by deep-sea mining and drilling.
The stories coem from across Oceania and include Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. But the report also looks to the future with hope. The document is an important foundation to build community resilience Mrs Ma’afu said.
‘We see our people’s recognition of the changing of climate, the warmer temperatures, and the very real threats of natural disasters. But more importantly, we learn of good practices currently being implemented to adapt to prolonged drought conditions The vital traditional knowledge…that can strengthen the resilience of local communities against the impact of environmental challenges and climate change.’
The report calls for people from Pacific communities to participate in international discussions and responses to climate change, which Mrs Ma’afu strongly agrees with.
‘We need to speak out about the injustices of environment and climate challenges that threaten to sink our island states and with that our culture and traditions,’ she says. ‘It is crucial to Oceania’s livelihood that we, the small yet strong voices, are heard.’
The Lima conference is part of a process to conclude a global climate agreement by the end of 2015.
Martin de Jong is Advocacy and Research Adviser Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand.