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Tuvalu minister urges action on rising seas

Rev Tafue Lusama, Chairperson of the Climate Action Network Tuvalu. Photo by Timothy Herbert and courtesy of Oxfam Australia
“IF WE DON’T act now, by the time you realise that you should do something, it will be too late to save yourself and your country.”

That is the message from Rev Tafue Lusama, Secretary for Peace and Justice at the Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu (Christian Church of Tuvalu) and Chairperson of the Climate Action Network Tuvalu.

Mr Lusama, who wrote his Masters thesis on climate change from a theological perspective, was in Australia in July and August on a speaking tour for Greenpeace and Oxfam to raise awareness of the real threat of climate change.

Tuvalu is the world’s fourth smallest country and home to only 12 000 people, but rising sea levels are threatening their very existence. Its people are on the brink of becoming climate refugees but Mr Lusama said Pacific people will not accept losing their homelands.

“Becoming climate refugees is absolutely intolerable to us,” he said. “We will lose everything our identity is tied to. When it comes to relocation we have no option but to move.

“If we are climate refugees and, for example, move to Australia we will be living under the mercy of the government of Australia … we will not be free people.

“Our culture and tradition are things that were born out of the environment that we live in. If we move to another place, the culture and tradition of Tuvalu will definitely lose out.”

The aim of Mr Lusama’s trip was to wake the Australian public and churches up to the effects of climate change.

“We would like to inform the public of Australia that climate change is happening now and it is affecting the lives of people around the Pacific Island countries.

“If Tuvalu goes down today you will follow tomorrow. Climate change is not isolated to Tuvalu or Kiribati alone, it is a global problem.

“From a Christian perspective we are fighting against injustice.

“I appeal to Christians to fight with us, as members of the one body of Christ in the world.

“Fight with us, stand together and let’s defeat this unjust system which is oppressing and forcing people into poverty and hunger and will force us underwater.”

The Australian Government has refused Tuvalu’s relocation assistance plea three times, but Mr Lusama said relocation is plan ‘b’. The aim is to save the low lying island nations in the Pacific.

“The priority for our government and our people is to save our country and to remain on Tuvalu but if we have to move we should have a plan in place.”

Mr Lusama said there is currently no legal status in any international convention to protect the rights of so-called climate refugees.

Tuvalu is one of the seven countries in the Association of Small Islands States that will ask developed nations to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December.

“I do believe people are listening and trying to do what needs to be done. The problem now is the political will,” said Mr Lusama. “My aim is to convince people to lobby their government to support a coherent and realistic deal to come out of Copenhagen.

“We are hoping that the industrialised countries, in particular Australia, will agree on a fair economic deal that will ensure our survival.

“If we ignore the injustice in this issue we are ignoring the mission of Christ.

“This world was given to us by God, it doesn’t belong to us. Tuvalu is the country given to me by God to serve, protect, look after and to pass it on to my children. If we mistreat what has been given to us for a short while I believe we are insulting the owner of that property.”

Photo : Rev Tafue Lusama, Chairperson of the Climate Action Network Tuvalu. Photo by Timothy Herbert and courtesy of Oxfam Australia