6 October 2012
The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand is calling for the New Zealand Government to establish relocation strategies with the governments of Pacific island nations in danger of disappearing as a result of climate change.
A recommendation for the Church to advocate for climate change refugees was accepted with unanimous support at the Church’s biennial General Assembly in Rotorua today.
The Church’s new Moderator, the Right Rev Ray Coster, says the New Zealand Government needs to recognise the crisis being faced by our small vulnerable nation neighbours and act before it is too late.
“A major disaster is happening in our backyard. As the sea level continues to rise, more low lying atolls will be underwater. Every Pacific nation is affected in some way and people living on these islands face a bleak future unless there are plans for their resettlement. It is only a question of time. The Presbyterian Church has close links with our sister churches in the Pacific and they tell us of the devastating impact of climate change on their nations’ peoples.”
The Rev Asora Amosa, the Clerk of the Church’s Pacific Island Synod, says “New Zealand has a close relationship with the Pacific and it is about time the NZ Government made a formal agreement to accept people displaced by rising sea levels due to climate change. The people of Tuvalu and Kiribati will be the first of the islands in need of relocation.”
“While there is much more awareness now of the issue of global warming and climate change and its effects in the Pacific than ever before, the needed changes are simply not happening fast enough. We need to take strong and active steps to protect and provide for Pacific nations being affected.”
“The New Zealand Government’s focus is on providing a range of assistance to support Pacific nations but not about offering relocation to those affected by climate change. This needs to change.
Rising sea levels, an influx of drought leading to a greater propensity for flooding and more frequent storms, mean that the best hope for these nations lies in resettlement.
Asora says there is urgency for governments to act now as an increasing number of people’s lives are affected; weather-related disasters rose 65-fold, an increase from 270,000 during the 1980s to 1.2 million in the 1990s.
Ray Coster says the Presbyterian Church is deeply committed to advocating for its Pacific island neighbours and caring for Creation. Last year the Church called on the New Zealand Government to give Tuvaluans NZ citizenship so it could accept Tuvalu people displaced by rising sea levels due to climate change. And as a member of the Council for World Mission Pacific region the Church criticised the NZ government for making changes to New Zealand’s aid that could have devastating consequences for poor economically depressed island nations. The Church’s 2004 General Assembly saw caring for Creation adopted as part of the Church’s mission statement, and at General Assembly 2008, the Church endorsed a declaration on climate change which has seen many of its churches commit to becoming ‘greener’.