Social justice

Our people, our land, our future: COP23 update

St Ignatius’ Riverview’s Sustainability Centre Coordinator Sue Martin is among a number of Jesuit Province representatives at the COP23 gathering in Bonn, Germany. She shares her reflections from the Inter-Connection  Zone, the non-accredited space hosted by the German Development Institute at COP23 which is linking Climate Action and Sustainable Development.

The Pacific Calling Partnership ( helped sponsor the Thursday afternoon event titled Our People, Our Land, Our Future. Phil Glendenning from the Edmund Rice Centre, Australia was the moderator and Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga of Tuvalu and elder statesman Anote Tong from Kirabati spoke on the work that is happening at COP23 and the UN to hear the voice of the low-lying island states. The metaphor of us all needing to ‘paddle together’ was used to describe the future all desire.

The aim of the Inter-Connection Zone is to draw out the connection between SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) and NDC (Nationally Determined Contributions). ‘Global South’ is the term used for the developing countries that are most affected by the high carbon emissions from the ‘Global North’ (developed countries) over the past centuries. The call from the Inter-Connection Zone was for the voice of the Global South to be stronger, to build the capacity of its climate leaders.

The Global South voice is getting louder in Kirabati and Tuvalu. They say that a target of two degrees warming is not good enough. They say that a sovereign state will exist no matter what the sea level moves to, that the people of Kiribati and Tuvulu will remain even if their islands disappear.

Migration is an issue and a right of the people of Kirabati and Tuvalu, but their argument is that migration should be a dignified process. A proposal is going to the UN on the Rights of People Displaced by Climate Change, as they aren’t covered by the Rights of Refugee and Asylum Seekers. This is needed because climate-displaced people are not refugees.

The conversation around climate change should include compensation from the Global North, who still resist taking responsibility for the consequences of their own development. Forestry compensation is happening through carbon capture projects, but coral and ocean impacts are not yet considered in the COP23 negotiations.

A congregational voice is emerging in the Pacific with Pacific Climate Watch  which has an EcoJesuit presence with Micronesia and Australian voices.

Paddling together, the canoe journey needs to have high ambitions. Anote Tang put forward the proposal to have a moratorium on new coal mines, but it was met with disappointment as the Australian government is supporting the development of the Adani coal mine in the Galilee Basin, which will be the largest coal mine in the world.

Honesty and trust is needed in working together. Canada was able to shift carbon policy 180 degrees, so it is possible in the Global North to shift. We in Australia and the rest of the Global North need to save the Islands to save the world.

By Sue Martin

Read more: Indigenous communities and international development cooperation at COP23