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Climate change a real threat to Pacific Islands, warn church leaders

Pacific islanders are a source of hope for other Christian communities seeking a culturally-based communal economy based on sharing and cooperation, participants at a global church gathering have heard.

During the 14-23 February ninth assembly of the World Council of Churches some participants have identified Pacific island communities as an alternative to the type of economic globalisation that happens under regulations adjudicated by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

But the Pacific islands are under the threat of being erased from the face of the earth because of climate change, Pacific Island church leaders are warning.

"Climate change for us is a real life-threatening issue in Tuvalu," Rev. Tofinga Falani, president of the Tuvalu Christian Church, told a 21 February side meeting during the WCC assembly taking place in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Tuvalu is a cluster of eight islands in the Pacific with a population of 11 600, which, Falani said, is the most threatened by global warming and climate change because of rising sea levels. The sea level in Tuvalu rose to 2.9 metres in 2005 but this level increased to 3.2 metres in January 2006, threatening the small island country with an average elevation of slightly over three metres above sea level, he said.

"So if you come from a developed country, I believe you are partially a culprit [for causing global warming and climate change]," Falani told other church leaders attending the meeting, some of them from developed countries like the United States, which is the highest consumer of the fossil fuels, seen as a cause of global warming.

The United States refused to be a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol which entered into force in 2005 and which calls on developed countries to reduce their consumption of such fossil fuels.

"The problem is that we in the Pacific islands bear the burden of global warming, which is actually caused by the consumerist lifestyles of other countries, most particularly the developed world," Piniki Utia, from the Cook Islands Christian Church told Ecumenical News International.

The Pacific islands also face other climatic changes such as unusual cyclones, monsoons and long droughts, which, Utia said, islanders never experienced until 10 years ago. But while facing such threats, Pacific islanders have also been sharing with other participants of the WCC assembly what they call their "Island of Hope" economic system. This, they say, is an alternative to the market-oriented and consumerist Western economic system they say organizations like the WTO are imposing on other countries.

The "Island of Hope" system, which incorporates spirituality and the culture and tradition of communal sharing and cooperation, can be simulated or replicated in other parts of the world, says the Rev. Fei Tevi, WCC executive secretary for the Pacific.

"Through the Island of Hope alternative, which is actually already part of our way of life, we can tell the world that there is an alternative to the WTO," he asserted. "And this alternative can help check consumerist lifestyles that help impact on climate change and global warming."

(c) Ecumenical News International