Good Samaritan Sister, Geraldine Kearney, is a passionate campaigner for the rights of Pacific nations vulnerable to climate change. But a recent visit to Canberra with young Pacific leaders to lobby Australian politicians has made her “more determined to be part of their ongoing struggle”.
Geraldine was part of the “Pacific Calling Partnership” delegation to Canberra late last month, which included a small group of young people from Kiribati, Tuvalu and Papua New Guinea.
Established in 2006, the “Pacific Calling Partnership” is a collective of organisations and individuals, including the Good Samaritan Sisters, concerned about the serious threat that climate change poses on low-lying island countries in the Torres Strait and the Pacific.
Geraldine is very aware of the challenge of moving hearts and minds about the threat of climate change, having lobbied politicians and decision-makers at many national and international forums over the last decade. However, she told The Good Oil that the Canberra delegation had “quite a favourable hearing” from a range of politicians and their advisors.
“They certainly listened to us… they were very respectful,” she said.
“All of them, whether government or opposition, were moved by the personal stories [of the delegates] and… the cost that it was for them to tell their stories.”
Even though the government representatives strongly defended their climate change policies, Geraldine said they “listened” to what the delegates had to say.
“At no time did we experience any off-handed treatment, because I’ve been on other delegations where it hasn’t been as receptive,” she explained.
Geraldine said a few politicians expressed a desire to visit Kiribati and Tuvalu, while others indicated they “would continue to forge ahead with what they could do for the cause”.
Overall, Geraldine described the Canberra visit as a “wonderful experience” which included “a very good press conference” on the Senate lawns. “We were pleased with that because it gave the delegates an opportunity to share some of their stories, their testimonials, as well as to show some of their culture through their singing and their dancing.”
For Geraldine, this sharing of stories and culture is important because it highlights the far-reaching effects of climate change: “It’s not just the land that is under threat, but people’s very identity and culture is at stake”, she said.
Maina Talia, age 29, from Tuvalu said the group did not come to Australia to “put the blame on Australians”.
“We came to ask Australians as our neighbour and big brother to be a signpost to other industrialised countries”.
Maina urged Prime Minister Abbott to “rethink his Government’s climate change policies and take the lead on climate change action”.
“We ask all the Australians who have heard us to remember our stories. Please do not forget our nations of Kiribati and Tuvalu. These are our homelands. We were born there and we want to die there, in the place of our family and ancestors. We want our children to grow up as we grew up.
“However, without urgent action internationally, the future for our children is uncertain. Relocation of our people will not solve climate change,” said Maina.
The two-day visit to meet politicians in Canberra was part of a two-week intensive training program co-ordinated by Jill Finnane of the “Pacific Calling Partnership”. Known as the Kiribati Australia Tuvalu Exchange Program (KATEP), it provided the four young Pacific leaders with workshops on climate justice, communications and advocacy. At the conclusion of the program, the participants were awarded a certificate in international advocacy and leadership.
“I think these four [young people] will go on to be delegates at the international level. We were pleased with what they achieved and what they gave to us as well,” said Geraldine.
“It was certainly for me a tremendous privilege to be part of; it was inspiring and I think it made me more determined to be part of their ongoing struggle.”
The United Nations has designated 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States. It will adopt the broader context of climate change as its theme to encourage a greater understanding of the urgency to help protect the islands in the face of growing risks and vulnerabilities, particularly as a result of climate change. Find out more www.un.org/islands2014