With the Pacific Islands facing unique and imminent threats from climate change, union activists in New Zealand’s Pasefika community are calling for urgent action to address the crisis.
Pasefika leaders in the Public Service Association say they strongly support the nationwide climate protest rallies taking place this Friday and urge all New Zealanders to attend if they can.
“Our motherlands and families are in danger, through no fault of their own,” says Ulualofaiga Mareko, co-convenor of the PSA’s Komiti Pasefika.
“The factories and smokestacks of the old colonial powers pumped poison into our atmosphere and cooked the planet for generations. They already colonised the Pacific and today our families, communities and homelands pay the price for a climate crisis created in the First World. When will it end?”
Rising sea levels and increases in air and ocean temperatures threaten to degrade coastal land, salting the island earth and making it difficult to grow crops such as taro and breadfruit.
New Zealand politicians and courts have in recent years debated whether to grant refugee status to applicants from islands such as Tuvalu and Kiribati, and special visas for those displaced by climate change in the region were mooted by the Prime Minister.
Among Pasefika communities, by contrast, the focus is on how families can continue living in their homes with dignity and security.
“Climate change is upon us and will have a huge impact on us all, both in Pacific nations and in my adopted home of Aotearoa. Let’s get behind tomorrow’s demonstrations, let’s raise awareness and build public pressure to look after our homelands, let’s do this,” says Brian Palalagi, PSA Komiti Pasefika co-convenor.
“We do not accept limiting the discussion to how and when our people should leave their ancestral land and move to New Zealand or Australia. The fight to save our planet is not over yet, and our families should not be displaced from their homes without everything possible being done to prevent it.”
The Public Service Association represents thousands of government employees who study climate science, assist migrants with resettlement, and facilitate New Zealand’s foreign policy in the Pacific.
As a democratic organisation with both a broad mandate and a variety of voices within its ranks, the union urges the New Zealand government to intensify its efforts to combat climate change.
“We’ve run out of time to debate whether action is needed. Strategic planning around what to do must commence yesterday,” says Mr Mareko.
“The Pasefika community, the trade union movement, the youth walking out of school and the parents and grandparents who walk with them are all united. It’s time to stop tinkering around the edges and transform our economy to put people and the planet before pollution and profit.”