Who is ready to fight for Pacific nations?

Protesters+in+Fiji+show+strength+in+the+face+of+rising+sea+levels+with+the+350+Pacific+slogan+%E2%80%93+%E2%80%9CWe+are+not+drowning%2C+we+are+fighting.%E2%80%9D
Back to Article
Back to Article

Who is ready to fight for Pacific nations?

Protesters in Fiji show strength in the face of rising sea levels with the 350 Pacific slogan – “We are not drowning, we are fighting.”

Protesters in Fiji show strength in the face of rising sea levels with the 350 Pacific slogan – “We are not drowning, we are fighting.”

Supplied by Pacific Climate Warriors

Protesters in Fiji show strength in the face of rising sea levels with the 350 Pacific slogan – “We are not drowning, we are fighting.”

Supplied by Pacific Climate Warriors

Supplied by Pacific Climate Warriors

Protesters in Fiji show strength in the face of rising sea levels with the 350 Pacific slogan – “We are not drowning, we are fighting.”

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






ALL over the globe people are starting to stand up for climate action.

From massive school strikes in 2018 and 2019, to the smaller but just as disruptive Extinction Rebellion protests, the climate justice space is expanding fast.

With Australia set to experience some of the more severe effects of climate change in the coming few decades, it is hardly a surprise that people are taking to the streets and joining local climate action groups in droves.

However, if the nation looks to its Pacific neighbours – who are already experiencing damaging effects of climate change – who is fighting for them?

Pacific Climate Warriors’ Lisa Baker just before speaking at the September 20 School Strike for the Climate gathering at Brisbane's Musgrave Park.

by Katie Rasch
Pacific Climate Warriors’ Lisa Baker just before speaking at the September 20 School Strike for the Climate gathering at Brisbane’s Musgrave Park.

 

A global climate movement known as 350 is calling for countries to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide levels below the safe level of 350 parts per million by replacing the use of fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy.

Its Pacific branch, the Pacific Climate Warriors, is a grass roots climate justice group based across 15 island nations.

Pacific Climate Warriors' Lisa Baker and Lisa Viliamu stand ready to address the protest crowd at Brisbane's Musgrave Park at the second Student Strike for the Climate.

by Katie Rasch
Pacific Climate Warriors’ Lisa Baker and Lisa Viliamu stand ready to address the protest crowd at Brisbane’s Musgrave Park at the second Student Strike for the Climate.

 

It fights for an end to the fossil fuel industry and to have its voices heard in the wider climate debate because its communities who are facing the brunt of the change.

“I think it’s funny how Australia doesn’t think we are experiencing climate change, because we are, just not as severely.”
Pacific Climate Warriors Brisbane co-ordinator Mary Harm

The Pacific Climate Warriors are active right across Australia, pushing to humanise and diversify the fight for climate justice.

Mary Harm is the Brisbane co-ordinator of the local chapter, which she described as community organisers who are passionate about preserving culture and tradition.

She spoke about the relevance of the climate movement here in Australia.

“I think it’s funny how Australia doesn’t think we are experiencing climate change, because we are, just not as severely,” Mary reflected.

Mary Harm is the Brisbane co-ordinator for Pacific Climate Warriors.

Image supplied
Mary Harm is the Brisbane co-ordinator for Pacific Climate Warriors.

“The bushfires, extreme hot summers – that’s climate change. The language being used in the mainstream isn’t acknowledging that.

“If the Pacific is experiencing (the impact of climate change) now, Australia’s not far behind.”

Her comments align with the 2017 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which said that climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and to increase further if it reaches 2°C.

When asked about Australia’s involvement in the Pacific climate fight, another climate warrior, Sailoto Liveti, made an interesting observation.

“(Pacific communities) never leave anyone behind and that’s what I believe Australia should be like,” Sailoto explained.

“Being our neighbour, and being a part of our community, means they should help us.”

Sailoto also cited Australia’s reliance on coal exports as another reason for concern.

He said that because Australia had the resources and power to prevent further crisis for its Pacific neighbours, it had a responsibility to do so.

In August, Sailoto attended the Pacific Leadership Forum on the behalf of another organisation and, he said, the meeting’s outcome had been assuring and optimistic.

“They will continue to survive, there’s no question, they will continue to survive, and they will continue to survive with large aid assistance from Australia … (they will continue to survive) because many of their workers come here to pick our fruit.”
Then Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack, in Wagga Wagga

At the forum, leaders engaged in 12-hour discussions in order to release a statement and communique about climate change in the region.

Several changes were made from the original document, at the insistence of Australia, including the removal of all but one mention of coal power.

Sailoto said the decision to remove almost all references to coal from that document was disheartening.

Sailoto Leviti

Image supplied
Sailoto Leviti is a member of the Pacific Climate Warriors Brisbane and recently attended the Pacific Leaders Forum in his home country of Tuvalu.

And Pacific leaders – including the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Elene Sopoaga, and Fiji’s Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama – also expressed their disappointment at the final communique.

While the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was in Tuvalu for the forum, his Deputy – at the time acting Prime Minister– Michael McCormack dismissed those criticisms from the Pacific leaders.

In mid-August, The Guardian reported the acting PM’s controversial remarks made at a business function in Wagga Wagga: “They will continue to survive, there’s no question, they will continue to survive, and they will continue to survive with large aid assistance from Australia … (they will continue to survive) because many of their workers come here to pick our fruit.”

Sailoto said he felt “disrespected” when he heard of Mr McCormack’s comments.

“My initial response was so much frustration,” Sailoto said. “I definitely view it as a sign that our Australian Government is not taking the plight of our people into consideration.”

After the forum concluded in Tuvalu, Mr Bainimarama called Mr McCormack’s comments “very insulting and condescending”.

While the Deputy PM later apologised for his words, others saw it as another sign of Australia’s disengagement on the issue of climate change.

“I think it’s very important for us to bring that sense of community, bring that spirit of the Pacific, to the climate movement.”
Mary Harm, Pacific Climate Warriors

However, the reason Pacific Climate Warriors has taken action in Australian communities is in response to this perceived disengagement.

In Australia, the face of the climate activism is still undeniably a white one, so an increase in diversity of voices can only make the movement stronger.

“Indigenous people have always told stories and it’s a way of preserving culture,” Mary said.

“It’s like de-colonising the climate justice space as well, doing it our way.”

Sailoto echoed this sentiment.

“I think it’s very important for us to bring that sense of community, bring that spirit of the Pacific, to the climate movement … so, that way, we don’t get lost in – for lack of a better word – the colonial framework that activist spaces currently run within,” Sailoto said.

Pacific Climate Warriors are instead encouraging a reframing of climate change discussions.

They believe people are not responding fast enough to the science, the statistics and the evidence, so they hope that telling their stories will encourage people to think of the human faces behind the data.

Pacific islanders, from political leaders to grass roots activists, are calling for drastic action on climate change.

And the Pacific Climate Warriors are trying to humanise this fight and bring it to Australia where they can enact real, concrete change.

“The momentum, the science, the resources are all there, it just needs that tick of approval to happen,” Mary concluded.

________

Words: Katie Rasch
Images: Katie Rasch / The Argus; supplied

_______

Want to read more?
The original version of this story is one of 30 in a special online Climate Change edition of The Argus that was compiled by Queensland College of Art students from a final-year course called Transmedia Storytelling.