25 April 2024

‘Our role is to deal with suffering now’: Pacific churches leader

Pacific Island nations face some of the worst effects of climate change, despite contributing little towards it. Picture: iStock.

Jenan Taylor

2 April 2024

Australian faith communities have been urged to tackle inaction on climate change that is leaving Pacific Islanders more exposed to rising seas and natural disasters, by a Pacific leader.

Leaders from a range of groups including the Uniting church gathered to discuss faith and climate in the Pacific region at an Edmund Rice Centre social justice webinar.

Pacific Conference of Churches general secretary the Reverend James Bhagwan called on participants to consider how to address the climate crisis and its effects on the region together.

Mr Bhagwan said Christians were called to serve as caretakers of God’s unique creation and had a prophetic role to tackle the climate change effects including injustice.

He said about 80 per cent of the world’s population identified with a faith tradition and that presented a huge opportunity to mobilise to protect the planet.

Mr Bhagwan said climate change was the single most significant security threat facing Pacific Islanders even though they contributed less than one per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite this, hundreds of “carbon bombs” including coal, gas and oil projects were being rolled out in the region, including in Australia, to add to the problem.

Their effects could amount to physical, spiritual and economic death for many Pacific Island nations, Mr Bhagwan said.

Read more: Faith groups push for climate action in lead up to COP 28

In 2023 the Australian National University reported that the Pacific was among the areas most vulnerable to climate change. Its effects include food and water insecurity, and damage to health and wellbeing including from climate-induced displacement.

Mr Bhagwan said standing together could help faith communities better support the most vulnerable communities as they faced the impacts.

He said they could amplify the voices of those struggling populations at a regional and global level.

Mr Bhagwan said Indigenous Christian communities could also share their Pacific knowledge with other Indigenous communities so that there was collaboration in responding to the climate crisis.

Where churches engaged with those in power it was important they used those relationships to shift the conversation to one of care for struggling populations, and for the planet, he said.

Replying to a participant’s question about navigating some beliefs about leaving things to Jesus to take care of, Mr Bhagwan said Christians shouldn’t wait.

“If we’re waiting for the end of days for Jesus to come and fix things, what about all the creatures suffering now?  That is an excuse to not act. Our role is to deal with suffering now,” he said.

Mr Bhagwan will speak at the annual Epeli Hau’ofa Memorial Lecture: The Ocean is Us at the Australian Museum, Sydney on 4 April.

For more details please see here.

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