“You did this to us…and we can’t fix it without you helping us.”
This was the plea from the leaders of the low-lying Pacific Oceans as they pointed their fingers at other nations represented at the UN Ocean Conference earlier this year, as reported by Sr Libby Rogerson IBVM, who also attended the conference. Their homes are being swallowed by rising sea levels as a result of climate change and they face the imminent need to seek refuge elsewhere and watch their culture disappear.
This week, the Green Team extended an invitation to staff and students to join their regular Thursday meeting to listen to Sr Libby share some of her learnings from her sabbatical at the UN and at the UN Ocean Conference. The UN strive to make the world humane, just and sustainable and not only did Sr Libby provide examples of global environmental issues and social justice issues, she also made it clear how these issues are so often inextricably linked. Many people are well aware of the challenges climate change presents to the fauna through melting polar ice-caps, coral bleaching, changes to migration patterns etc., but the fact that populations across the poorer nations, in particular, are affected through rising sea levels, changing weather patterns and the impact on food security, is less well known.
Another such example is the plight of the indigenous forest peoples of the Amazon who no longer celebrate summer and winter as these seasons are no longer distinct as a result of a changing climate. We also heard how the land on which they live is sold to developers, including for mining and building ranches. Their way of life is destroyed and along with this comes loss of culture. 50% of the 187 human-rights activists killed were defending land from developers – a shocking statistic.
Climate change is also a threat to the oceans, but there are three more enemies of the marine ecosystems that were discussed at the Ocean Conference: plastics, ghost nets and unsustainable fishing. Many people across the world are very aware of the issue of ocean plastic and its impact on the organisms living within the oceans, but the issue of ghost nets is not something widely known and indeed this was new learning for the audience on Thursday. Sr Libby explained that when nets from commercial fishing vessels becomes tangled, they may be simply cut loose and left to float, trapping seals, turtles and other marine life. There are literally thousands of these in our oceans, and modern nets are made from synthetic, non-biodegradable materials such as nylon so they join the plastic debris too. In Arnhem Land, such nets have floated from far away lands and are routinely dug out of the sand on deserted beaches containing the skeletons of the trapped endangered marine life from the Gulf of Carpentaria. Unsustainable fishing threatens both the animals that are fished, but also the traditional communities that rely heavily on fish as a food source and livelihood who cannot compete with the large commercial fisheries.
In addition to illustrating major issues using powerful case studies, Sr Libby urged us to take action. We can become conscious consumers of fish, such as canned tuna, by seeking brands carrying the dark blue certification logo from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) that is pictured in this article. Another challenge Sr Libby set the audience is to communicate with relevant ministers about Australia’s commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, in particular the preparations for the 2018 Voluntary National Review to the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, with reference to goals #6, #7, #11, #15 and #17.
Mrs Elizabeth Cranfield