Page 4906 - Week 13 - Wednesday, 11 November 2009

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One of the most interesting aspects of the meeting for me was the presence of representatives from the Pacific, in particular Samoa, the Cook Islands and Kiribati. What was so interesting about that, particularly in relation to climate change, was that each of the representatives from these countries spoke about that and the particular impact that climate change is already having in their countries.

The speech from Mr Bauro Tongaai, a member of parliament in Kiribati, was particularly compelling. He spoke about the impact that they are now experiencing and the impact it is having on their culture and their way of life. I want to read a couple of excerpts from his speech, because it was a very compelling speech, as I said. He said:

… for many years we have tirelessly appealed to the international community—asking them to do something about climate change and to provide solutions for those seriously affected by its detrimental impact, especially those whose very existence are being threatened. These appeals have failed to produce practical solutions for people living in low-lying Small Island Developing States like Kiribati. While the international community continues to point fingers at each other regarding responsibility for and leadership on this issue, our people continue to experience the impact of climate change and sea level rise. And practical solutions continue to evade us.

I will quote another excerpt as well:

The question now facing us … is what we will do when people start fleeing their countries, not because of political persecution, but because of environmental catastrophe? This is the question I want to put forward as a challenge for this seminar and to which I wish to provide a possible answer, at least from the perspective of a country whose very existence is under serious threat. The relocation of 100,000 people of Kiribati, for example, cannot be done overnight. It requires long term forward planning and the sooner we act, the less stressful and the less painful it would be for all concerned.

The thing that was so poignant about the speech that Mr Tongaai delivered was that he stated that the people of Kiribati want to be able to deal with the situation they are facing with dignity. It is incumbent on both Australia and New Zealand to be focusing much more on the region of the Pacific when it comes to the issue of climate change: this region is being impacted now and will be impacted further in the immediate future. Both New Zealand and Australia will have to take some responsibility for the impact these people are going to experience—including, as Mr Tongaai said, the fact that a lot of people will have to leave their countries.

We are going to need to deal with that. We are not just talking about people losing their land; we are talking about people losing their culture and their identity. That was one of the key issues they put forward. We are going to have to deal with the emotional impact that is going to come with what is going to happen to them.

As Mr Tongaai said to us, as other countries argue about whose responsibility climate change is—indeed, still, today, whether or not climate change is actually happening—and what are the causes of climate change, these countries in the Pacific are seeing

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