I am lucky enough to find myself in what is often described as Paradise: the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. As we prepare for Greenpeace’s largest ship, the Esperanza, to arrive – organising meetings, speaking to the Government, local environment groups and people active on climate change – I find myself overwhelmed by the beauty of the island and its people.
Rarotonga, the capital of the Cook Islands, is a tiny island surrounded by coral reef and shallow lagoons. Towering mountains are a reminder of the islands birth, one of violent eruptions and volcanic activity, that has left in its place magnificent peaks covered in lush greenery frequently wreathed in clouds.
Being a low-lying island in the Pacific is not as secure and safe as the laid back locals would lead you to assume. Cyclones, storm surges and drought have always been a part of life, and now with the increase in extreme weather due to climate change the idyllic seaside existence faces more of these events.
Sea walls, rainwater tanks and cyclone plans are being discussed and implemented. Local environment groups, the Government and others are looking for ways to adapt, but as everyone is fully aware, the source of climate change is not here where the impacts are being felt.
We are here to build capacity, work with the government, local NGOs and support local activism. It is so important that Pacific Islanders have the chance for their voice to be heard. Their strength and action is inspiring, but what we really need is action from the source of the problem- countries like Australia have the wealth and the technology to cut their emissions and act as responsible neighbours by mitigating against further warming.
Greenpeace has a long and proud association with the Pacific Islands, having worked for decades in the region on a range of issues: nuclear transport, nuclear testing, toxic waste, preserving Pacific fisheries and climate change.
Our ship tour starts tomorrow with the arrival of the Esperanza and from there our schedule is full. We travel to Aitutaki to assist the Government and the Red Cross with awareness-raising about cyclones, water salinisation and other climate impacts. From Aitutaki we travel to Pukapuka a tiny atoll, part of the Cook Islands and one of the most remote locations on earth. Pukapuka is reachable only by sea or chartered flight, so we will be taking the Government team and their much needed supplies with us. While there, the crew of the Esperanza will be assisting with vital consultations, mapping and surveying.
Our next stops will be Samoa and Vanuatu where we will continue our work with the Climate Warriors of the Pacific.
The Pacific Warriors will work to preserve their homes, their way of life and Greenpeace will lobby for the global changes that can reduce the impacts. What will you do?