Aug 07, 2006

Environment: Sinking States

UNPO Senior Advisor, Joshua Cooper, comments on the environmental crisis situations of some of the world's indigenous peoples on the 5th day of the WGIP in Geneva
UNPO Senior Advisor, Joshua Cooper, comments on the environmental crisis situations of some of the world's indigenous peoples on the 5th day of the WGIP in Geneva

Al Gores An Inconvenient Truth is a must see movie this summer around the world. The documentary provides insight into the issue of our generation. However, the film forgets the first peoples that will by forced to flee their sacred homeland. While graphics guide one to problems facing the planet and film footage portrays the fate of polar bears, there is less than 30 seconds devoted to indigenous peoples who will evacuate due to rising seas. In Gores accompanying book only a two page photo with one mention of Tuvalu graces the over 300 page publication.

The fate of Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu, must be recognized. The fundamental freedom of the right of self-determination for all indigenous peoples from the Pacific Atoll nations to the Arctic Circle countries.

Global gatherings are seen by some segments of society as a waste of worldly resources. As a frequent flyer for fundamental freedoms participating in planetary politics, I know each meeting of the minds offers an opportunity for citizens to create a coalition of compassion and creativity to change the direction to divert disaster and demand diplomacy that preserves dignity and protects human rights.

One minor meeting at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues reflects a tsunami of tenacity taking a stand for self-determination in the Pacific and worth every word spoken and every action that will follow.

The Indigenous Peoples Pacific Caucus and Hawaii Institute for Human Rights hosted a government representative from Tuvalu to speak to Maori, Aboriginals, Kanaka Maoli and Rapa Nui representatives about the immediate impact of global warming on the liquid continent of the world.

Minute Alapati Taupo, the deputy permanent representative of Tuvalu to the United Nations, explained the philosophy behind the political strategy to survive climate change -- the latest wave of colonialism from the industrial coasts to indigenous communities.

The Minister Counsellor, Minute Alapati Taupo, noted the seriousness of the situation in Tuvalu today and the Pacific region in the near future.

Tuvalu advocating on the issue of climate change is a matter of survival, he said. Its a matter of life and death. Within the next fifty years, we will be under the water.

This is really a serious matter for people of Tuvalu, he stressed to the audience.

We are positive if we dont reduce emissions, we are on that approach of not if but when, he said reflecting on the irreversible damage.

We want to be in Tuvalu forever, he said. We dont want to leave. We want to believe it will never happen. That is why we are fighting the industrial countires.

We dont want to see it happening, Taupo said. We are fighting our cause at every opportunity in the UN for a. We pursue every avenue where we can share our concerns.

We are innocents in this issue, Taupo frankly states. We didnt do anything to create the rise in sea levels.

We dont want to believe we are moving, he admits.

In a stand taken as strongly as when Tuvalu stood united for independence and stated in clear unflinching language, Taupo said, We want to maintain our sovereignty. It is the extinction of a people. Our identity will vanish.

From the taro farmer to the Tuvalu foreign minister, the population is realizing there are more questions than answers surrounding the result from the rise in sea levels in relation to self-determination and numerous aspects of international law.

International law doesnt answer todays emerging questions, but will have to address, he said. Our rights as a sovereign nation over our resources and territories will have to be maintained.

Tuvalu has assembled a working group at home looking at world affairs to explore campaigns for the cause and search for mechanisms in international law. We want our sovereignty to be maintained. We want to make sure our rights as distinct peoples is respected.

The message resonated with the Pacific audience. An Aboriginal member pushing the ecumenical advocacy groups shared that the World Council of Churches is supporting the indigenous peoples in the Pacific on the issue of climate change from a human rights perspective calling on industrial nations to reconsider their current practices and also to change its policy and attitude towards the environmental refugees who will seek safety in Australia as a result of the rise in sea levels

As Peter Smith noted, The people of the low lying islands in the Pacific Ocean are victims of climate change caused by more powerful and industrially developed countries including Australia.

At the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, Michael McKenzie from Kiribati asked, When our people have to start swimming, will Australia be disposed to help us? We may be the first of a new wave of environmental refugees, victims of climate change largely brought about by the developed world.

A Maori youth also expressed concern about the challenge facing the Pacific nation and the similarities among the island peoples.

Maori are also ocean dwelling people, she said. We are currently fighting to get our lands back and to see it potentially swept under the waves is reprehensible. There are at least 70 Maori nations that will be in the same position in the future.

The parallel presentation at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is an illustration of how international institutions offer the initiative for a collective approach to seek solutions.

Tuvalu is currently planning a global assembly in late February 2007 so an international audience can bear witness to the extreme weather firsthand. Participants will attend a series of conferences allowing for a National Summit on Climate Change, a Peoples Tribunal of Tuvalu and the Pacific Region, an International Commission on Human Rights & the Environment, a UN Pacific Social Forum and a Site Visit of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.