Church leaders call for justice on climate change in the Pacific

By Christina Gretton, 24 September 2021
A composite screenshot image of (L-R) Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, Archbishop Peter Chong, Archbishop of Suva Fiji, Rev. Mata Havea Hiliau, Moderator-Elect Uniting Church NSW/ACT and Rev. James Bhagwan, Pacific Conference of Churches General Secretary speaking during the Edmund Rice webinar ‘COP26, Climate & the Pacific – A Call to Action’. Image: Edmund Rice Centre/YouTube


The world’s oceans produce 70% of the oxygen we breathe, and 15% of the world’s food. For the people of the Pacific, it is even more fundamental. It’s their home, their foodsource, their culture and their spirituality. It is therefore devastating to those who call the Pacific their home, to see it so quickly being destroyed by human activity.

“How long must the Pacific people be resilient?” asks Rev. (Mata) Havea Hiliau, Moderator-Elect Uniting Church NSW/ACT, who grew up in Tonga before moving to Australia.

Four church leaders, including Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, addressed this and other questions around the morality of inaction on climate change at the Edmund Rice webinar ‘COP26, Climate & the Pacific – A Call to Action’ on Friday 17 September attended by over 270 people from around Australia.

RELATED: Bishop Vincent’s address to the webinar ‘COP26, Climate & the Pacific – A Call to Action’

As each speaker from the Pacific region spoke, they demonstrated how the impacts of climate change and exploitative human activity are already being felt in the Pacific.

Archbishop of Suva, Fiji, Peter Chong described how the destruction by Australian sand mining companies has driven away the crabs island women would catch and sell to raise money for their families.

Rev Havea Hiliau spoke of a young child sheltering helplessly from a terrifying cyclone in the village church, revealing that child was actually herself, and how this situation is being repeated significantly more often with the changing climate.

Rev James Bhagwan, the General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of People’s Churches foresaw people of the Pacific being forced to leave their homes as the seas rise, their options limited to becoming second class citizens in countries such as Australia where they are valued only for picking fruit and other jobs Australians don’t want.

He also outlined the injustice of the situation where the impacts of climate change are changing the climate patterns that impact the daily lives of the people of the Pacific. “When we were young the cyclone season used to be November to April, it now begins in September,” he said.

Describing how humans have interpreted “stewardship” of the earth as “dominion”, Rev Bhagwan continued: “We recognise there is something wrong when we recognise the ones who contribute so little to the world’s carbon emissions. If you think of a footprint, Pacific countries do not even qualify as contributing the equivalent to the nail on the smallest toe. Yet we bear the bootmark of the exploitation of creation.”

Bishop Vincent Long, who is also chair of the Bishops Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service compared the response of world governments to the pandemic, with their response to climate change.

“During this coronavirus pandemic, political leaders everywhere, by and large, have followed the advice of scientists in enacting public health policies that prevent or at least contain the spread of the virus and protect life,” he said.

“Unfortunately, there has not been a strong and decisive leadership when it comes to fighting climate change.

“Instead of uniting behind the science and enacting favourable public policies, many leading industrial nations including Australia have regressed or even reneged on the Paris climate accord which limits global warming to 1.5° C above the long-term average to reduce the worst impacts of climate change.”

He explained how Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to commit to net-zero emissions targets, even when most of Australia’s major trading partners have done so.

Bishop Vincent also spoke about the need for the global Catholic Church to act with more urgency on the matter. He outlined the need to balance growth and protecting the environment, and referred to Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, which calls for a new economy that does not deteriorate the environment. This year the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor also calls on Catholics to listen to what is happening.

“If we want a different world, we need to be a different people,” he said, urging us to see that “less is more”.

Rev Havea Hiliau summed up the hopes of many. “I want my descendants to receive God’s good earth in the best shape possible,” she said.

Asking our politicians to take action on climate change

The world is preparing for the COP26 Climate Conference on 31 October in Glasgow. COP26 stands for Conference of the Parties, and it is the 26th such meeting since it was first established in 1994. At the conference, countries will be asked to present emissions reduction targets for 2030 that align with reaching net zero emissions by 2050, and adapting to protect communities and ecosystems that will be impacted.

The Edmund Rice Centre is promoting a number of ways that parishioners can let Australian politicians know they want to see Australia take urgent, strong climate action, and ensure an effective commitment at COP26.

Tosy’s story

Tosy is a young woman from Kiribati calling our leaders to act with compassion and justice, as climate change threatens their countries. You can join the ‘Stand with Tosy’ petition here to send a letter to Australian politicians.

The Laudato Si’ Movement

The Laudato Si’ Movement is supported by senior Catholics, and more than 750 Catholic organisations. It works to mobilise the Catholic community to care for our common home and achieve climate and ecological justice. The Movement is organizing a petition to send to all the political leaders (including Australia’s) who are participating in COP26, as well as the UN Biodiversity Conference in October. You can find out more about the “Healthy Planet, Healthy People Petition” here.

Watch a recording of the Edmund Rice Centre webinar here or below.

September is the month of the Season of Creation which ends on 4 October. You can find more information and resources at

Download the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor here.

Read more about, and download the statement on climate change by Pope Francis and other Church leaders here.


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