Headline: Tuila’epa calls for urgent action over climate change for Pacific survival
By Nanette Woonton at Te Papa
The stark realities of climate change were laid bare at the opening of the Pacific Ocean, Pacific Climate Conference in Wellington last week.
Calls from the Prime Minister of Samoa for urgent action were made as climate change is put under the microscope during the conference.
Coordinated by the Victoria University of Wellington in partnership with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) the three-day conference brought together different voices spanning a range of sectors for a diverse discussion on climate change and an exchange of ideas on how to address this issue together.
The conference scene was set with Samoan Prime Minister Tuila’epa Dr Sa’ilele Malielegaoi presenting the opening keynote address on Wednesday, highlighting the challenges of climate change across Samoa and the Pacific, and showcasing the action undertaken to address these.
“We all have a role to play in seeking the greatest level of ambition from all parties to the Paris Agreement. We understand that there are challenges for all countries but through cooperation, understanding and good faith, we can overcome these,” said Prime Minister Tuila’epa.
“Promises are not enough, now is the time for action and we must all act now.”
The actions of Samoa both in climate change adaptation and mitigation were highlighted, helping to empower discussions over the days ahead.
100% renewable energy Samoa has a target of generating 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025, taking into account the anticipated increase in electricity demand.
In its commitment to climate action, Samoa is also preserving its biodiversity, ensuring mangroves as crucial marine ecosystems are conserved and protected, in turn helping to strengthen resilience against the impacts of climate change.
Samoa is also working to keep its waters clean and healthy from land-based pollution with legislation and regulations. Around 80 percent of marine debris is from land-based sources, all of which present a threat to Samoa’s marine wildlife.
“Pacific Island countries face numerous challenges with sustainable development. We are small in size and population. We have small markets and limited trade. We are remote and our resource bases are limited,” said Prime Minister Tuila’epa.
“Yet we have so much to be proud of. Pacific Island countries have made significant steps forward, and despite our challenges, our economies are growing. We are implementing innovative adaptation measures against climate change impacts.
“We made considerable progress in moving our economies towards renewable energy, despite being responsible for a very, very, very tiny proportion of greenhouse gas emissions.”
For the next three days there was much discussion and exchange of ideas as the momentum gained to tackle climate change together as members of a Pacific and global community were propelled forward by words of empowerment from the Prime Minister of Samoa.
Global outlook needed “The recognition of our earth without borders resonates with the need for a global outlook, international cooperation and a shared strategy to address the challenges we face, after all as the Prime Minister of Tuvalu always ardently advocates – Save Tuvalu and you will save the world.”
The Pacific Ocean, Pacific Conference is the second Pacific Climate Change Conference held at Te Papa Museum from February 21-23.
The parallel sessions consisted of a range of presentations held under different themes from different speakers. Each day started with two keynote addresses as well as another two keynote addresses after lunch.
Nanette Woonton is communications officer of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).
Headline: Tongan churches failing to provide climate leadership, says researcher
By Philip Cass of Kaniva News
Tonga’s churches are failing to provide leadership over climate change and it is up to young people to join with church goers to take action, according to research by an Anglican priest.
Speaking at last week’s Pacific Ocean Climate Change conference in Wellington, Fr Laiseni Fanon Charisma Liava‘a said that while the Tongan government was desperately lobbying developed countries about Tonga being on the frontline of climate change, the issue was not a priority for the kingdom’s churches.
The former Tongan Navy officer said his research, conducted in Tonga in June last year, showed that climate change was still a relatively new issue at the local church level.
It was still much managed and communicated as an elite level issue while the majority of the people at the community and grassroots level were left uninformed.
He said the churches displayed a lack of care and collective responsibility about the seriousness of the issue and its threat to people’s lives.
The churches failed to understand the significance of climate change and did not communicate its importance, especially to young people.
“The majority of church leaders still do not fully believe climate change is a serious issue and that it is not the responsibility of the church to combat its impact,” Fr Liava’a said.
Perpetuated behaviour Churches continued to perpetuate behaviour and practices that did not help mitigate its effects.
He said because some church leaders were employed in public and private sector boards or foreign funded projects on climate change, people thought they only pushed a climate change agenda because they were paid to do so.
Fr Liava’a worked for the Pacific Community-Focused Disaster Risk Reduction Tonga Project in 2009 and as the National Climate Change Coordinator of Tonga’s Third National Communication Project from 2013 to 2014.
He said the main factors holding the churches back were lack of informed understanding, lack of moral leadership and deficiencies in Biblical and theological comprehension of climate change issues.
Fr Liava’a said people he spoke with said the churches were selective when it comes political and public issues.
“The urgency of the need for response and combat climate change demands young people and churchgoers to take action, together,” Fr Liava’a said.
“It has to start with education.”
Strong leadership needed He said Tonga needed strong leaders to take action on climate change.
“Leaders need to step up and set examples. People can follow.”
The exclusion of spiritual/Christian principles and values from the climate change message was also a problem.
“The people in Tonga cannot be separated from God because that is what they believe,” he said.
“My research findings showed that one of the reasons why churches do not always support the government is because the government does not build on Christian principles to the climate change work.”
Rev’d Liava’a said that when serving as an officer in the Tongan Navy from 1999-2002 he had seen a number of areas where people had now retreated from the sea because of climate change.
These included Makaunga to Navutoka on the eastern side, Kanokupolu and south of Ha’atafu on the western side of Tongatapu and Lifuka in the Ha’apai group.
Dr Philip Cass is a media academic and an adviser to Kaniva News. He is also a research associate of the Pacific Media Centre.
Headline: More frontline research ‘by Pacific for Pacific’ plea at climate summit
Trailer for the controversial climate change documentary Anote’s Ark – former Kiribati President Anote Tong opened the first Pacific Climate Change Conference in Wellington in 2016.
By David Robie at Te Papa
A recent Andy Marlette cartoon published by the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon, depicted a bathtub-looking Noah’s Ark with a couple of stony-faced elephants on board with a sodden sign declaring “Climate change is a hoax”.
The other animals on board floating to safety were muttering among themselves: “The elephants won’t admit that these 100-year events are happening once a month …”
At the other end of the globe in Wellington this week for the second Pacific Ocean Climate Conference at Te Papa Museum, I encountered a fatalistic message from a Tongan taxi driver counting down the hours before the tail-end of Tropical Cyclone Gita struck the New Zealand capital after wreaking a trail of devastation in Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.
He had it all worked out: “We don’t need climate conferences,” he said. “Just trust in God and we’ll survive.”
However, a key takeaway message from the three-day conference was just how urgent action is needed by global policymakers, especially for the frontline states in the Pacific – Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu, where none of the sprawling atolls that make up those countries are higher than 2m above sea level.
Many of the predictions in assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are being revised as being too cautious or are already exceeded.
Bleak news for the Pacific at least. Glaciologist Dr Naish is working on a project to improve estimates of sea level rise in New Zealand and the Pacific.
More Pacific research needed Another critical takeaway message was the vital need for “more Pacific research, by the Pacific and for the Pacific”, as expressed by 2007 Nobel Peace Prize co-recipient Professor Elizabeth Holland, director of the University of the South Pacific’s Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PaCE-SD).
Many of the global models drawn from average statistics are not too helpful for the specifics in the Pacific where climate change is already a daily reality.
Dr Holland was a keynote speaker on the final day. Describing herself as a “climate accountant” making sense of the critical numbers and statistics, she said it was vital that indigenous Pacific knowledge was being partnered with the scientists to develop strategies especially tailored for the “frontline region”.
“Local research in the region is of utmost importance, leading to informed development choices and is the best way forward as it creates a direct connection between the research and the communities once it is implemented” she says.
“Our Big Ocean States are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and remote research does not suffice, calling for the creation of leaders and experts locally through joint Pacific-led research.”
Scientists, researchers and postgraduate students were at Te Papa in force among the 240 delegates or so at the conference.
Deputy director Dr Morgan Wairiu was among them, speaking on “Engaging Pacific Islands on SRM Geoengineering Research”.
USP is one of only two regional universities in the world – the other is in the Caribbean. Its PaCE-SD is a centre for excellence in environmental education and engagement, and a global climate change research leader, especially with its focus on the Pacific region and island countries.
The university has 12 member countries with campuses or centres in each.
Local researchers are highly motivated and passionate about studies dealing with the effects of the changes occurring in their environment first hand.
The conference speakers included some the leading and innovative global climate science thinkers and advocates, such as Dr Michael E. Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University.
“There are droughts, wildfires and floods that are occurring now that are without any precedent in the historical record and where we can now use modelling simulations, climate models,” he says.
“You can run two parallel simulations. You can run a simulation where the carbon dioxide levels are left at pre-industrial levels, and a parallel simulation where you increase those levels in response to the burning of fossil fuels. And you can look at how often a particular event happened.”
He developed the artificial leaf from this theory, a project named by Time magazine as Innovation of the Year for 2011. Since then he has elaborated this invention with a partner in India to develop a production pilot deploying a complete artificial photosynthetic cycle.
He argues that it is developing countries that may play a more crucial role in harnessing renewable energy discoveries because the massive vested interest infrastuctures built around fossil fuels in Western countries hamper rapid progress.
Many speakers gave an indigenous perspective on climate change, arguing that a holistic approach was needed, not just focusing on the science and political solutions.
Independent researcher Aroha Te Pareake Mead gave an inspiring message about “Indigenous peoples and our knowledge – we’re a total package” and the Mataatua Declaration on the Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights of Indigenous Peoples 1993 and what has been achieved since.
The Mana Wahine panel – Associate professor Leonie Pihama, Dr Naomi Simmonds and Assistant Professor Huhana Smith – gave an inspirational sharing on “transforming lives through research”.
Law graduate Sarah Thompson spoke about her legal challenge last year to the previous National-led New Zealand government over the emissions target, and although she eventually lost the High Court case for a judicial review, she opened the door to future climate change lawsuits that may prove more successful.
However, former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Victoria University’s Law Faculty distinguished fellow, was far more cautious, saying that there was better chance of persuading politicians and trying to develop climate change policy through the courts.
Dr D. Kapua Sproat, acting director of Ka Huli Ao Centre for Excellence in Native Hawai’ian Law and director of the Environmental Law clinic at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, said Native Hawai’ians could invoke indigenous rights to environmental self-determination.
Julian Aguon of Guam, founder of boutique Blue Ocean Law, said it was a challenge to confront deep-sea mining negotiators and corporate lawyers in “wild west” style cases in the Pacific.
But he also pointed out that more media, climate change frontline activists such as the Climate Warriors, and West Papuan advocates – “where horrendous climate and cultural abuses are happening” – needed to be included in such a conference.
In the concluding panel, the joint Victoria University and SPREP organisers, led by Professor James Renwick and “spiritual leader” Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pacific) Luamanuvao Winnie Laban, pulled together these core themes for going forward for the next conference in two years “somewhere in the Pacific”:
• Urgency of action • Pacific on the frontline of climate change • Multiple voices, and legitimacy of Pacific voices • New, more and better capacity-building in the Pacific • Action on all fronts – top down and bottom up • Need more effective laws • Transformative change is needed
A former New Zealand prime minister has warned that climate change has the potential to force a legal and political upheaval that the world would underestimate “at its peril”.
Speaking at the Pacific Ocean Climate Conference at Te Papa Museum in Wellington yesterday, Sir Geoffrey Palmer said a largely unexplored aspect of climate change lay in the “potential to force the revision of many fundamental and long accepted methods of doing government and organising its institutions”.
New Zealand would not be able to solve this problem alone and it would need levels of international cooperation “not yet achieved”.
“The four horsemen of the Apocalypse in the [biblical] book of Revelation were pestilence, war, famine and death. Climate change has the capacity to produce those conditions to a worrying extent in the future,” said Sir Geoffrey, now distinguished fellow in Victoria University’s Faculty of Law.
“We underestimate at our peril the challenges that it will bring and that it has brought already.”
He cited riots and massive refugee flows as some early examples.
Sir Geoffrey said New Zealand would need to ensure that the instruments of government – both domestically and internationally – were adjusted to meet the challenges and this “poses a formidable set of issues”.
Climate change lawsuit Sir Geoffrey made the comments in an analysis of a recent landmark, but unsuccessful, legal challenge to the New Zealand government over climate policy made by a 26-year-old law student, Sarah Thompson.
He also gave an in-depth overview of the state of environmental law in the country.
Commentators at the Te Papa conference, including Sir Geoffrey, hailed Thompson for bringing the test case, which sought a court ruling over the National-led government’s two key climate goals and argued these no longer met New Zealand’s obligations under the COP21 Paris targets.
Media publicity about Justice Jillian Mallon’s 25-page judgement delivered on November 2 was relatively muted, however, given that New Zealand’s climate policies changed with a Labour-New Zealand First-Green government taking office.
Sir Geoffrey said Sarah Thompson’s name would always be remembered in relation to climate change lawsuits.
“Endless further iterations of the Paris agreement will be necessary before substantial progress is made [over climate change jurisprudence],” Sir Geoffrey said.
He added that as he had written in other legal papers, he was “not sanguine that the mechanisms for making international law and enforcing it effectively are adequate to allow us to be confident that climate change can be properly addressed”.
In Paris in June 2017, the Global Pact for the Environment had been unveiled and it was a “powerful document that would remedy many difficulties with the international law for the environment were it binding”.
Not binding The problem was that it was not binding and there did not seem “an immediate possibility” that it would become binding.
New Zealand’s domestic legal situation now needed to be designed with a durable framework that could endure over time and would not be the subject of “sudden policy lurches” due to changes of government.
Sir Geoffrey said the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and the Waitangi Tribunal had the potential to provide alternatives to the official narrative and “these could both be helpful in stimulating public opinion to demand more from elected representatives”.
Also, New Zealand was one of only three countries in the world without a written constitution and provision of an environmental right in such a written, codified constitution would offer the courts “more capacity than they have now” to rule on climate change issues.
However, it was unrealistic to expect the courts to become major players in climate change policy.
“You would be better off talking to politicians,” he added.
Two activist lawyers from the North Pacific disagreed with Sir Geoffrey’s pessimistic view in the same Te Papa conference session, although they were dealing mostly with American-based legal jurisdictions.
Invoking indigenous rights Dr D. Kapua Sproat, acting ditector of Ka Huli Ao Centre for Excellence in Native Hawai’ian Law and director of the Environmental Law clinic at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, said Native Hawai’ians could invoke indigenous rights to environmental self-determination.
She said human rights and constitutional restorative justice legal principles could and were being used to challenge the dominant culture.
Julian Aguon of Guam, founder of boutique Blue Ocean Law, said it was a challenge to confront deep-sea mining negotiators and corporate lawyers in “wild west” style cases in the Pacific.
He said he had been working on the issue in several countries and was concerned that 27 deep sea exploration contracts had been awarded in a field of law where there was no or little oversight or regulation.
Aguon said an unsavoury “cast of characters” had embarked on a new “minerals gold rush” in the Pacific’s so-called “rim of fire” region since 2012.
He was dedicated to protecting indigenous customary and traditional rights, which were already being negatively impacted on by the deep-sea exploration disturbances.
Samoan Prime Minister and climate change action advocate Tuila’epa Dr Sa’ilele Malielegaoi is among the high-profile experts presenting at the Pacific Climate Change Conference this week at Te Papa National Museum.
Tuila’epa will give the opening keynote address at the conference on Wednesday morning.
The three-day event, February 21-23, co-hosted by Victoria University of Wellington and Apia-based Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), has more than 160 invited speakers from backgrounds including science, government, business, indigenous rights, law, activism, media and the arts.
Among the line-up of speakers are renewable energy expert Professor Daniel Nocera from Harvard University, Professor D. Kapua’ala Sproat from the Native Hawai’ian Law Center, environmental scientist Dr Patila Malua-Amosa from the National University of Samoa, climate scientist Professor Michael Mann from Pennsylvania State University, indigenous bio-cultural heritage expert Aroha Mead and graduate lawyer Sarah Thomson, who filed a legal case against the New Zealand government over its emission targets.
It is the second time Victoria University has hosted the Pacific Climate Change Conference.
Climate change scientist and conference co-organiser Professor James Renwick says Victoria’s inaugural conference in 2016 highlighted the deep and long-lasting effects climate change was having on Pacific communities.
“In 2016, we heard from people whose daily lives are impacted by climate change-whether it’s more frequent extreme storms demolishing sea walls and destroying food crops, or warmer seas affecting fisheries and damaging corals,” he said.
‘Better understanding’ “But we also heard from people who are dedicating their work to better understanding the science, legal, political, economic and human aspects.
“This second conference is a chance to get the very latest information, exchange knowledge and ideas, and reignite connections that can bring positive change.”
Victoria’s Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika) Luamanuvao Winnie Laban says the conference is a vital chance for the voices of the Pacific to be heard.
“We have representatives from at least 11 Pacific island nations attending this conference so it’s an invaluable opportunity to share expertise and experience, and come together to find solutions.
“At the last conference, we asked representatives from Pacific nations, including New Zealand, to find out how their governments are reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in accordance with the Paris Agreement, and report back. We look forward to hearing their progress.”