“Three of the five nations named by the United Nations as anticipated to be under water by the end of the century are within the Diocese of Polynesia. Scientists stated recently that this human-made tragedy may happen within the next 50 years. The nations are Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu. In Fiji, the headquarters of the Diocese of Polynesia, there are hundreds of villages listed for relocation.” So said Archbishop Emeritus Dr Winston Halapua, former Bishop of Polynesia, in his keynote address.
In late January, a unique gathering of distinguished academics, diplomats, faith leaders and faith-based organisations met at Lambeth Palace under the aegis of the Archbishop of Canterbury to explore migration caused by climate change. Central to the day were contributions from Oceania, the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean – from people who are involved and affected – to see what can be learnt in the search for effective responses.
Welcoming the participants, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said, “Climate change is about justice. As Christians we’re called to protect God’s creation, and the billions of people whose lives are at risk”.
The roundtable was convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Representative to the Commonwealth with the support of the Anglican Alliance. Disaster response and resilience is one of the Anglican Alliance’s priorities. Examples of the work we are engaged in and resources can be found here.
A detailed record of this exceptional day, with a summary of each speaker’s contribution and links to their presentations is provided below. Key themes that emerged during the day included:
- the complex mix of challenges facing small island states to which climate change adds;
- the diverse impacts of climate change – from sea level rise to increased risk of disasters – all of which disrupt livelihoods and have the potential to drive migration;
- the enormous and unsustainable costs of building defences against sea level incursion;
- the uncertain status of climate migrants under international law;
- the repercussions of migration including loss of culture, history, sovereignty and identity, and the potential for conflict with host communities and between generations;
- the fact that animals as well as people are being displaced by climate change;
- that the Church is responding in myriad ways to the challenges both in terms of responding to disasters and building resilience.
Delegates from all groups urged the Church to speak boldly on the ethical dimension of climate change and displacement.
Dr Haigh described how small island states, though varied, share similar challenges of small populations, remoteness, heavy dependence on trade (and aid), high energy-costs and disproportionally expensive infrastructure and administration due to their small size. They are therefore especially vulnerable to the additional threats of sea level rise and climate change-related disasters.
He explained that according to geological data, sea levels had been relatively stable over the last 6000 years. But tide gauge records show that around the end of the 19th century the mean sea level began to rise and over the last 130 years has risen by about 20 cm. In the last 15 years, the rate of sea level rise has accelerated to over 3mm per year.
Continuing his sobering assessment, Dr Haigh shared graphs illustrating how, in a ‘business as usual’ scenario, sea levels are on a trajectory to rise by up to 5 metres by 2300. If action on climate change is taken in line with the Paris Agreement, it will be possible to limit sea level rise to around 1 metre. This is a considerably better long-term picture, but 50% of Solomon Islanders live on land that is less than 3m above sea level. Preventing any further sea rise is not possible because of the global warming that has already taken place and the long lag period in its consequences for sea levels.
Dr Haigh described some of the impacts of sea level rise. As well as causing land loss, it causes increased flooding, erosion and salt-water intrusion. Coral decline is also of key importance as the coral barrier reduces total wave energy by an average of 97% and reduces wave height by an average of 84%
In conclusion, Dr Haigh said that sea level rise is “one of the most certain and costly consequences of climate change”. However, he ended on an optimistic note, reminding everyone that, “if enough people come together internationally, there is almost no problem we cannot solve”.
Voices from the Islands 2
Throughout the Anglican Communion churches and agencies are working to help communities respond – and become more resilient – to disasters. Connecting and equipping Anglicans for this work is one of the priorities of the Anglican Alliance. At the round table we were privileged to hear from three further speakers from small island states who are engaged in such work and who shared how churches, faith communities and faith-based organisations are making a difference in their regions.
Lalinda Wickremeratne has worked with the Diocese of Colombo, the National Christian Council and other institutions in Sri Lanka on disaster risk reduction, community development and was involved in relocating people after the 2004 tsunami.
Nagulan Nesiah is Episcopal Relief & Development’s Senior Programme Officer for Disaster Response and Risk Reduction.
A copy of their PowerPoint presentation can be found here.
Lalinda started by outlining the Sri Lankan context, where climate change adds to previous challenges, including the protracted civil war and 2004 tsunami. Sri Lanka is number 2 on the latest Global Climate Risk Index. Twenty five per cent of the workforce is in agriculture (even though it only produces 12% of GDP) meaning there is a large population vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Coastal areas are also at risk. Many people live in coastal areas and they are responsible for 43% of the country’s GDP.
Nagulan described some of the impacts of climate change and their repercussions. One example he cited was how fishermen, because of rising water temperatures, are either moving much deeper into the ocean to fish or moving to different coastal areas where there are fish closer to the coast. The former requires different types of boats, which are unaffordable for many, whilst the latter leads to tension and conflict with existing fishing communities.
Lalinda further expanded on some of the migration patterns that are being seen in Sri Lanka. Traditionally, Sri Lanka cultivated crops twice a year, but the shortage of rainfall has restricted this to once a year, threatening livelihoods. As a result, many men migrate to urban areas (but are unskilled outside of agriculture) and many – especially women – migrate more permanently overseas (for example, to work as maids in the Middle East). He noted that when such migration happens, people are leaving land they do not legally own, so when they leave, they lose their right of return, as well as an asset that could have been transferred down through the generations. As one of the country representatives later speaker pointed out, this can lead to inter-generational conflict down the line. As a further result of such migration, children are often growing up without one of their parents, which correlates with an observed increase in child abuse and teenage aggression.
Lalinda was involved in the resettlement of people displaced by the 2004 tsunami and described it as “insanely difficult”, indicating the reality of the challenges large-scale migration causes.
Nagulan ended the Sri Lankan contribution by describing some of the ways faith-based actors are responding to these challenges. Interventions for people who are displaced include developing people’s skills for non-agricultural jobs, providing education, water and health care, and working for reconciliation, peace and justice to reduce conflict. Churches and organisations are also helping people adapt to the challenges and become more resilient. Efforts here include rehabilitating ancient tanks and wells to reduce dependency on rainfall, introducing drought-resistant seeds, economic empowerment and training people in disaster responses and mitigation.
Clifton Nedd, the Anglican Alliance’s Caribbean Facilitator, described similar climate change impacts across the Caribbean and also emphasised that climate change is just one of many challenges facing the region. Livelihoods are being severely eroded by climate change. For example, the micro-climates of different elevations are changing, causing traditional crops to fail and pests to increase. Storm surges and intense rains cause silt to be washed into the sea, to the detriment of both the fertility of the land and the life of the sea – again resulting in livelihoods being lost.
Various mitigation projects have been undertaken in Grenada, some of which are shown in this film from the Nature Conservancy:
Such endeavours are very important and welcome, Clifton said. However, he also stressed their huge and unsustainable cost to Caribbean governments, as well as the fact they are funded at the expense of other important social budgets such as healthcare and education.
“What is the Church’s response and where are we going?” Clifton asked. “Historically the Church has been involved in assisting in the immediate aftermath of disasters such as hurricanes, for example with shelters and food supplies and so on. Currently the Church supplies a lot of emergency support, pastoral care and psycho-social support. It is also working with communities to build resilience”.
Clifton went on to describe some of the tools the Church uses to build resilience, including the Pastors and Disasters toolkit, developed by Episcopal Relief & Development. This is being used to great effect in different regions (link) and in March there will be a Pastors and Disasters workshop for churches in the Caribbean convened by the Anglican Alliance in partnership with by Episcopal Relief & Development.
Clifton also referred to an upcoming round table about displaced people is being held at St Crispin’s Church in Woodbrook, Trinidad. “So the Church is involved and is waking up to its role in that process, but when we think about that role, it can’t just be to respond… We have to think about prevention and use our advocacy voice to ensure that commitments, such as that agreed in Paris is maintained, because we are literally living on the water’s edge.”
Clifton’s talk concluded with a reflection on a recent trip to Carriacou, one of Grenada’s three islands, where he had visited a cemetery that is being lost to the rising seas. He said, “As a Church we think of the Communion – those who have gone before, those who are here, those who are coming. We think about care for all of creation… the refugees are not just the people who have to move but also the animals that are affected… everything in God’s creation”. Pointing to a backdrop of images of the graves being eroded, Clifton continued, “[Carriacou] is a place where people feel particularly connected to their ancestors…. I can understand, in the context where people feel that close and that connected, how painful this must be. You can see the date on that gravestone is 2014. This is not somebody who died two hundred years ago who somebody might not actually remember. This is someone somebody held, somebody knew, somebody loved, who is still alive to remember. Who speaks for them?”
Following the presentations, delegates divided into table groups of similar people (NGOs, diplomats, academics etc) to consider: what they – in their position as diplomats, academics etc – can uniquely do or contribute in the context of migration resulting from climate change; what they want or need from other groups (for example: information, experience, advocacy, practical help etc); what opportunities exist for collaboration.
The Anglican Alliance is working collaboratively with other bodies both inside the Anglican Communion and externally, to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth – the fifth Anglican mark of mission. Further information and resources about Anglican environmental work can be found on the following links: Anglican Communion Environment Network; The Anglican Communion Office at the UN; Anglican Alliance reflective PowerPoints here.
 Migration and Environmental Change Report, 2011; Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre Report; IPCC reports
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