Pacific Islanders whose homes face eradication by rising sea levels have called on Australia to not fund the Adani Carmichael coalmine, as a new report reveals the worsening impact of climate change across Oceania.
Residents of the endangered islands have described their forced displacement as like “having your heart ripped out of your chest” as they called on the Australian government to do more to combat climate change, reports The Guardian.
A report released by international aid group Caritas found that thousands of Pacific people across the region faced “threats to their wellbeing, livelihoods and, in some places, their very existence” due to rising sea levels, king tides and natural disasters brought about by climate change.
In Papua New Guinea, 2,000 households across 35 coastal communities were displaced by coastal erosion over the past year. In Samoa, 60% of the village of Solosolo was relocated to higher ground.
In the Torres Strait, 15 island communities were identified as at risk over the next 50 years.
The mayor of the Torres Straight Island regional council, Fred Gela, described the forcible removals as like having your heart ripped out “because you are told you’re not able to live on your land”.
Erietera Aram, a resident of Kiribati who works for the Department of Fisheries, said he decided to visit Australia to ask its government to take action.
“We talk about the Adani coalmine,” he said. “That’s a new one. I think it’s not a good idea – it makes the world worse for all of us. It is inconsiderate of other humans on this planet.
“We didn’t think of Australia as a country that would do that. We looked at it as our bigger brother. Proceeding with that new mine is a sad move. We live together in the environment but it’s like they are ignoring us.
“We’re two metres above sea level. With the sea level rise, most of our lands have been taken by coastal erosion. We love our country and we want our children to live there as well, hopefully forever. It’s hard to talk about leaving the place where you belong.”
According to the report’s authors, the impact of coastal erosion and flooding reached “severe” levels in 2016, upgraded from “high” the year before. Climate change also made it “increasingly difficult to maintain the health and integrity” of food and water sources. Water scarcity was deemed a “serious slow-onset problem throughout Oceania”.
In terms of natural disasters, a month’s worth of rain fell in 24 hours in New Caledonia in November 2016, killing nine people, while flash flooding in Fiji after Cyclone Winston forced 3,000 people into evacuation centres in December 2016.
In Fiji, the report found that certain types of fish were becoming poisonous, potentially as a result of farming contamination or seabed mining operations.
“Earlier this year four people died in the island of Gau from fish poisoning,” said Leo Nainoka from the country’s social empowerment education program.
Global sea levels are expected to rise 30cm by 2050 compared with a 20cm average rise over the 100 years before 2000. But in certain areas of the tropical western Pacific, sea level rise has been four times the global average due to El Nino and associated weather effects.
“Australia needs to make a stronger contribution to fight climate change and its impacts,” the report says. “To reach our emissions reductions targets, Australian policies need to rule out any major new fossil fuel projects or the expansion of existing ones, as this would be inherently incompatible with meeting our global climate commitments.”