June 12, 2021

Respect for Creation: Leaders and Religious Groups Confront Climate Change in the Caribbean and South Pacific Islands

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By Julianne Liebenguth From New Security Beat


Climate change is “unfolding as we speak,” said John Agard, professor of Tropical Island Ecology at the University of the West Indies (UWI) at a recent public forum on island nations hosted in Trinidad by UWI’s Institute of International Relations. The “close coupling of terrestrial, coastal, and marine systems” in islands “results in fast-spreading impacts across systems,” said Roger-Mark De Souza¹, formerly the director of population, environmental security, and resilience for the Wilson Center, which partnered with UWI and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies to organize the event.

This sensitivity to environmental change has prompted citizens from small island developing states to take on a global leadership role. Caribbean and Pacific nations are “challenging us to not only meet our emissions targets, but to aim for bolder ones,” said Elizabeth McLeod, a climate adaption scientist for The Nature Conservancy, citing the 1.5 degrees limit on global temperature rise that was only added to the 2015 Paris Agreement after persistent pressure from small island developing states. As other nations recognize the importance of planning for a climate-constrained future, island leaders—and especially religious leaders—can bring a sense of urgency and moral obligation to the conversation, and thus facilitate more effective regional resilience efforts.

Preparing for a New Climate

Extreme precipitation events, rising sea levels, higher temperatures, and stronger storms are affecting islands across the world, said Agard, a lead author on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Collectively, these changes require a new approach to risk assessment in the Caribbean and the South Pacific that recognizes the consequences are not just environmental. The impacts also damage human health and disrupt the economy by increasing the spread of infectious diseases, reducing water availability, endangering food security, and destroying infrastructure.

“How do we ensure the rights of our citizens to safety and security in those kinds of conditions?” asked Ronald Jackson, the executive director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). To strengthen humanitarian assistance in the face of intensifying storms—and prevent future disasters—we must strike a balance between mitigation and adaption. We can effectively harmonize risk planning and sustainable development, said Jackson, but first we must close the “artificial separation between climate change and disaster risk reduction.”

CDEMA’s comprehensive resilience framework considers climate a cross-cutting issue. CDEMA not only provides emergency services after disasters strike, it also seeks to reduce the long-term risks facing island communities. The four key objectives of CDEMA’s disaster management plan—institutional strengthening, knowledge sharing, coordination across sectors, and community-based resilience—are embedded within a sustainable development context that includes reducing emissions.

“Islands are natural laboratories for developing and testing new ideas for how to respond to climate change,” said McLeod, who works with communities around the Pacific region to evaluate and revise innovative adaptation strategies. The mechanisms islanders use to fortify their communities and livelihoods against climate change will ultimately serve as examples for the rest of the world.

Respect All Creation: Religion and Resilience

“Religious groups have a central role to play in highlighting the importance of addressing climate change, climate justice, and acknowledging the increased burden on the world’s most vulnerable,” said McLeod. Culturally important and well-organized, religious groups in the Caribbean and the South Pacific could help facilitate climate action while tackling issues of inequality and environmental justice.

Despite the tendency for Western organizations to overlook the role of religion in climate action, faith-based organizations in the Pacific have been involved in addressing climate changes for more than a decade, said McLeod. More recently, the TokaToka Declaration on Climate Change, put forth by the Pacific Conference of Churches in 2016, called for coordinated action on climate-induced migration and underscored the role of churches as first responders in Pacific communities.

“Any negative change to the climate, the atmosphere, or the environment is of concern and a definite threat,” said Harrypersad Maharaj, a well-known faith-based leader and Justice of the Peace for Trinidad and Tobago. “Unless we can be more responsible for our thoughts and the fruits of our action and consequences, then the devastation will continue beyond human recovery. Let us see and respect all of creation.”

1: Roger-Mark De Souza is currently the President and CEO of Sister Cities International.

Sources: Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, Pacific Conference of Churches

Photo Credit: Picture of the public forum, “How is Climate Change Affecting Islands and What Can We Do About It?” October 3, 2017. Photo by Keyon Mitchell, courtesy of American University, Institute of International Relations, and the Wilson Center.

For more on this story go to: https://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2018/01/respect-creation-leaders-religious-groups-confront-climate-change-caribbean-south-pacific-islands/

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