In December 2020, representatives of ACoM, researchers of the Solomon Islands National University, government officials and “Green Apostles” from the ACoM Environment Observatory test sites came together at Red Beach, Honiara, to celebrate the 1st anniversary of the establishment of the first ACoM Environment Observatories.
Honourable guests who followed ACoM’s invitation to the event included His Excellency Dr Brian Jones, British High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands, Mr Hudson Kauhiona, Director of the Climate Change Office at the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology (MECDM) in Honiara, Mr Barnabas Tahoo, Director of the Meteorology Department at MECDM, and Dr Michael Ha’apio, Director of the Solomon Islands National University.
The festivities around the 1st anniversary of the ACoM Environment Observatories provided an ideal forum to reflect upon the origins and implementation of the observatory project. Voices from the test sites at Fanalei, Walande, Selwyn College and Red Beach were heard. The “Green Apostles”, who conduct and document measurements of temperature, rainfall, water levels and shoreline positions for the observatories, shared their thoughts on past experiences, challenges and future opportunities.
Population growth and sea level rise resulting in a lack of land for gardening were concerns highlighted by the representatives from the test sites in South Malaita. Both communities currently face challenges of relocation and are in need of support to obtain land for settlement and gardening. Representatives of Sikaiana community at Red Beach reiterated the concerns about sea level rise and mentioned the additional challenge of changing weather patterns, which impact crop harvests across the country.
Speeches by government officials and the observatory project staff confirmed that for Melanesians, climate change is not a challenge of the future, but one that is already being lived in the here and now.
The observatory project aims to address the climate emergency by taking a two-way approach, combining knowledge transfer and local awareness raising, with the creation of scientific evidence of climate change and political engagement. Clergy and community members in Solomon Islands are equipped with the necessary skills to create trusted, scientific evidence of environmental change, which will be shared with policy makers and other stakeholders. At the same time, the observatories positively affect local adaptation in Anglican communities as knowledge about climate change and strategies for sustainable and environment-friendly livelihoods are shared amongst the community members.
The reflections by the “Green Apostles” during the festivities for the project’s 1st anniversary confirmed that the concept is working. The community representatives expressed their great appreciation for the project and highlighted that the engagement with the observatories has sparked discussions about possibilities for community-led adaptation at the test sites. For the future, the “Green Apostles” expressed their interest for greater engagement with policy makers to bring about positive change in their communities, especially with respect to relocation.
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact
Halo Olketa! My name is Naomi Hovell Maitani and I am from South Malaita in the Solomon Islands.
Climate Change is a global issue but little has been done about it. I resided at Selwyn College National Secondary School for six years (2015-2020) and my interest in climate change issues emerged in 2016. I watched the shoreline while traveling to Honiara from Selwyn College and back and I could tell that the coastline had been eaten away by the waves and tides. This also applies to our other islands in the country. I usually spend my holidays at my home village of Oloha, South Malaita, and the roots of the trees grown at our shoreline have also been eaten away by the waves and tides. It is my hope that the understanding about climate change, its impact and human adaptation to climate change will reach our rural areas. That is to prepare them and to keep them alert and safe.
I met my friend Marie Schlenker in late 2019 when the ACoM Environment Observatory began. We installed a rain gauge, a thermometer, shoreline poles and conducted GPS measurements of shoreline and vegetation positions on the Selwyn College shoreline. When Marie returned to the UK, I continued to help Freda with the shoreline and vegetation recordings. So much has been learnt from the observatory, but there are also many challenges ahead. The observatory gives us the understanding that we need to keep records on weather and assess the shoreline closely to make predictions on sea level rise, weather patterns, hazards and disasters and to create adaptation and mitigation strategies now and for the future. As our islands are mainly low-lying islands and atoll islands, we are highly affected by climate change. Like other Pacific Islands, we need to prepare.
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact
Just after Easter Form 1 students at Selwyn College successfully completed the ACoM Environment Observatory Short Training facilitated by Friian Quai.
Students learnt how to collect data on environmental change in their local environment, including daily measurements of temperature, rainfall, and water levels, as well as observations of long-term shoreline variability.
In the future, student groups at Selwyn College will apply the skills they learnt during the training course to monitor the environment around the school and contribute to increasing our understanding of climate change and its related issues in Solomon Islands.
ACoM is currently seeking funding to roll out the programme to the most environmentally at-risk parishes in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Please pray that funding comes forward for this important programme.
“COVID-19 is not only a wake-up call, it is a dress rehearsal for the world of challenges to come.”, stated UN Secretary-General António Guterres during his address to the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2020.
According to health and biodiversity experts around the world, the current COVID-19 pandemic is deeply connected to the climate crisis and our continued venture into spaces previously occupied by nature to obtain new resources and farmland. In the 2015 report of the Rockefeller Foundation – Lancet Commission on planetary health, scientists observed:
“Health effects from changes to the environment including climatic change, ocean acidification, land degradation, water scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, and biodiversity loss pose serious challenges to the global health gains of the past several decades and are likely to become increasingly dominant during the second half of this century and beyond. These striking trends are driven by highly inequitable, inefficient, and unsustainable patterns of resource consumption and technological development, together with population growth.”
We have reached a new era: the Anthropocene. An era in which humans shape the surface of our planet and, thereby, the fate of future generations.
UN statistics show that each year we destroy 10 million hectares of forest on our planet, mainly for gaining access to new farmland to feed growing populations worldwide. According to the World Wildlife Fund’s 2020 Living Planet Report, populations of nearly 21,000 species of mammals, fish, birds and amphibians declined by an average of 68 % globally between 1970 and 2016. Burning of fossil fuels and deforestation resulted in increases in the concentration of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere by 47 % since the beginning of the Industrial Age, and by 11 % since the year 2000, resulting in global warming, changing weather patterns and more frequent extreme events. (Read more about SDG 13,14 and 15 at https://sdgs.un.org/goals)
But what we often seem to ignore is that by destroying our planet, we are also putting us humans at risk. The World Health Organisation estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will kill an additional quarter of million people a year through the spread of infectious diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever. Increasing interactions between animals and humans as we venture into the last truly wild spaces on Earth will facilitate the spread of new strings of diseases, such as COVID-19 and Ebola, and an increasing risk of flooding in a changing climate will likely bring more outbreaks of waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid.
COVID-19 is a crisis of our own making and, with climate change and resource extraction advancing, there is more to come in the future.
The good news is: there is hope. The response to the pandemic has shown that people all across the globe have been willing to significantly alter their lives and work in partnership in order to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. Every one of us has an enormous capacity to adapt to new circumstances.
“The environment is God’s gift to everyone. And we have a responsibility towards each other to protect it. We cannot think of ourselves as isolated from others or from creation.”, is the official view of the Church of England on stewardship for the environment.
By taking little steps, all of us can help to create a more sustainable and more equitable world, which our friends in Melanesia and our future generations in this country can strive for.
Here are 8 actions that we can take:
Adjust your diet: Eat smaller or fewer portions of meat, particularly red meat, which has the largest environmental impact, and reduce dairy products or use non-dairy alternatives instead. Try to choose fresh, seasonal produce that is grown locally to help reduce the carbon emissions from transportation, preservation and prolonged refrigeration.
Consume and waste less:Avoid food waste. Try to repair and reuse items and don’t buy more than you need. Consider second-hand options or high quality items, which will last a long time. Give unwanted items a new life by donating them to charity, selling them on or giving them away for free in your neighbourhood. Put your purchasing power to good use by choosing ethical brands.
Respect and protect green spaces: If you have your own outdoor space, don’t replace the grass with paving or artificial turf. Plant trees and create your own green space. The Woodland Trust has tools and resources to support you. Help to protect and conserve green spaces like local parks, ponds or community gardens. Organisations like Fields In Trust and the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces have advice and resources on how you can get involved in areas local to you.
Make your voice heard by those in power:Tell your Member of Parliament, local councillors and city mayors that you think action on climate change is important. You can also get your local church involved in engaging with your MP about climate change. Hope for the Future can help you with training and resources.
Fifth mark of mission – to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth
In March over 30 supporters gathered online to hear about the Society of Francis’ mission in the Solomon Islands to highlight the wider implications and impacts of illegal, unregulated and unsustainable logging. Joining us the day after their address to the United Nations, Brs Worrick and Lent in Honiara and Minister General Christopher John in Australia, shared with us their concerns for the forests and people of Melanesia –
The forests of the Solomon Islands have sustained life in all its forms over countless generations. But now trees are being felled, dragged down from the mountain areas, and exported as unprocessed round logs. The logging companies, mostly Malaysian, often bribe politicians and local representatives to obtain logging licenses. Customary landowners receive some payment for their logs, but after the logging company has left there is nothing but bare earth. The work of the loggers is not monitored by government and often the terms of the logging licence are not respected. The effects are widespread.
The Brothers have asked us to pray for their work and the three main recommendations they want the Solomon Islands Government to address:
Protect human rights against abuses by logging companies; ensure effective remedies for victims; and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Ensure that the right to free, prior and informed consent be fully respected and implemented through all stages of the logging process, in accordance with international human rights standards.
Adopt a coherent and comprehensive mitigation and adaptation climate policy and actions based on human rights norms and principles.
Following the Brothers’ talk there was presentation on what our response might be towards climate and environmental justice, including shopping ethically – checking for sustainable forestry certification, engaging with our own politicians, government in the run up to COP26, becoming an eco-church and attending one of the Franciscan’s climate events at Hilfield or online.
If you would like to support the Brothers’ mission, or to watch the Call to Action conference recording, please contact MMUK.
Brothers from the Society of St Francis in the Solomon Islands are making a stand against illegal, unregistered and unsustainable logging in their country, via petitions to the United Nations. SSF Minister General Br Christopher John, writes about this important mission.
The forests of the Solomon Islands have sustained life in all its forms over countless generations. But now trees are being felled, dragged down from the mountain areas, and exported as unprocessed round logs. The logging companies, mostly Malaysian, often bribe politicians and local representatives to obtain logging licenses. Customary landowners receive some payment for their logs, but after the logging company has left there is nothing but bare earth. The work of the loggers is not monitored by government and often the terms of the logging licence are not respected. The effects are widespread. Destruction of environment, pollution of waterways, flash flooding which sweeps debris downstream where it blocks culverts and bridges, causing them to be washed away, and muddy water which pollutes fishing areas and damages the reefs which have a vital role in absorbing the energy of incoming waves. The damage is also social, cultural and spiritual. There are recorded incidents of prostitution associated with loggers, including trafficking in underage females. An excess of cash can also lead to increased alcohol consumption and gender-based violence. Such logging destroys the traditional reliance on forests to provide shelter for food crops, a place to hunt wild animals, a source of timber, vines and leaves for building houses and canoes, as well as the environment for plants used for medicinal purposes.
The Society of St Francis is one of the four Anglican religious communities in Solomon Islands. Our Brothers there know well the destructive effects of logging. They see it in the villages and when they are travelling out on mission. On our own we are too small to do much, but through our membership of Franciscans International (the voice of Franciscans at the United Nations) we are taking part in the Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights being held in Geneva and online. Solomon Islands is one of the nations whose recognition of human rights is being examined at the UN Human Rights Council. On March 25 at the “Pre-Sessions” Br Lent gave the following address;
STATEMENT FOR UPR PRE-SESSION SOLOMON ISLANDS
Thank you to UPR Info for providing me the opportunity to speak. My name is Lent Fugui, a Franciscan Anglican brother from Solomon Islands.
I present this statement on behalf of a coalition of Franciscans and Dominican NGOs.
In the previous UPR cycle, several states made statements and recommendations on the issue of natural resources exploitation as well as climate change.
Our focus for this presentation is the impact of logging activities in Solomon Islands on human rights.
In the activities of natural resources exploitation in my country, in particular logging activities in the customary land, there is a lack of participation and consent of local communities affected by logging plans and operations. In some cases, the environmental and human rights issue we raised during Timber Rights Hearings in the process are not taken into consideration by the Provincial Government.
In Laovavasa, Guadalcanal Island, we observed that logging activities have left behind great devastation. When the loggers harvest largest trees, they end-up destroying other small trees. The consequences of the destruction of forest and land are considered very severe by the community, as soils are now eroding; water sources dry up; rainfall is not dispersed efficiently, flash floods happen more regularly, as well as more droughts and landslides.
The diversion of the economy towards logging has impacted the traditional ways of life. In my country, fishery is a key source of livelihood. However, fish resources have declined because of sedimentation of rivers and reefs. This is a result of runoff from upstream cutting areas, and log-pond and wharf construction.
In February-March 2020, major floods in the Guadalcanal Province impacted our school, the Selwyn College of the Church of Melanesia, located in a coastal area surrounded by forest. The flood affected access to safe drinking water, sanitary facilities, food gardens of the school, as well as the rural health centre next to the school. As the septic tanks were flooded, there were serious concerns regarding the health impacts. Floods are believed to be exacerbated by logging activities in the upstream area around the school compound.
There have been several allegations of sexual violence related to the presence of logging companies and their foreign workers. A report on the gendered effects of corporate logging in Malaita Islands found that women in the region experienced sexual exploitation.
Women are also disproportionately affected by logging and mining activities, in particular in the cases where women have a limited role in negotiations on land. Women have often been neglected in decision-making process.
In 2018, five environmental activists, known as Nende Five, were imprisoned for opposing the logging activities in the primary forest on Nende in Santo-Cruz Island in Temotu Province. While three of the activists were acquitted, one activist, is facing life imprisonment for arson and another was convicted of larceny and unlawful damage; their lawyer stated that their confessions were given under duress.
We are very much concerned on the impact of logging activities on climate change. Despite its commitment to mitigate climate change, the Government of Solomon Islands has not submitted its revised Nationally Determined Contribution. The forest in Solomon Islands has been contributing to the world’s carbon sink. However, if the deforestation continues, the impact of logging activities will be very significant for the environment, not only for Solomon Islands but also the global efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
We would like to propose the following recommendations to the Government of Solomon Islands.
The government should protect human rights against abuses and environmental degradation by logging companies and ensure effective remedies when abuses occured. It should also take appropriate legislative and administrative measures to ensure that the use and exploitation of natural resources do not adversely affect the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights as well as to ensure that, through all stages of the logging process, the rights to participation and information of affected communities are fully respected, in accordance with international standards.
The government should undertake awareness-raising programs on the environmental, social and human rights impacts of logging and on the rights and protections people shall enjoy, including programs targeting women and youths and take appropriate legislative and administrative measures to ensure that the use of exploitation of natural resources do not infringe the rights of local communities to dispose freely of their lands, territory, and natural resources, in accordance with international standards.
It is important to guarantee the effective protection of people at risk because they defend their rights or the rights of communities, the land or the environment in the context of logging projects. The government should ensure that all violations committed against defenders are thoroughly and impartially investigated and that victims are provided with effective remedies.
The government should ensure effective protection against violence against women and children, including sexual abuse and exploitation and domestic violence, with a focus on communities affected by logging activities.
Finally, the government should ensure access to sufficient safe drinking water and adequate sanitation for the entire population, including those who are affected by, or even active in, logging activities, as well as to adopt a coherent and comprehensive mitigation and adaptation climate policy and actions based on human rights norms and principles.
Thank you. Br Lent
Highlighting this concern at the UN is just the beginning of what is planned to be a campaign calling on different organisations to work in different ways according to their capacity. At an international level, tracking where the finished timber products are sold; regionally, finding allies and sources of information in small nations which have successfully stood up to the pressure of logging interests; nationally and provincially within the Solomons, finding effective ways of lobbying politicians and helping them find solutions to the problems of logging; and at village level, the members of religious orders and others working to educate people and give them strategies to resist the pressure of logging interests.
Marie Schlenker has recently joined MMUK as an intern and will support our team over the next three months. Marie is passionate about reducing inequalities in this world through sharing and caring for God’s creation. During her placement she will focus on creating new opportunities for environmental education and practical climate action.
In her role as an intern at MMUK, Marie will take the lead in developing a climate change course for the students at the theological colleges in Melanesia, which will equip the next generation of priests with the necessary skills to incorporate climate change into their teachings and set up environment observatories in their local communities. Furthermore, she will network to increase opportunities for wider audiences in Melanesia and the UK to get involved in practical climate action, which is essential to ensure that our friends in Melanesia today and our next generations in the UK can continue to hope for a bright future.
Marie has a background in science and is working towards her PhD at the University of Southampton, studying climate change impacts and community relocations in Solomon Islands. With the support of MMUK and ACoM, she conducted research in remote communities in Solomon Islands in 2019, visiting the Provinces of Guadalcanal and Malaita. Furthermore, she is involved in the design and implementation of citizen-based environmental monitoring within the ACoM Environment Observatory. Before starting her PhD, Marie completed a Masters degree in Environmental Physics and volunteered as a teacher in Chile.
The impacts of climate change can be surprisingly far reaching, affecting families in unexpected and complex ways. Here, Tagolyn Kabekabe, the Anglican Alliance’s Pacific facilitator, talks about some of these impacts in the Solomon Islands, describing a chain of consequences that include a change in the types of diseases affecting communities.
The whole of the Pacific is affected by rising sea levels but it is worst for the low-lying islands. We have had instances when a spring tide has washed through the islands taking everything with it: the chickens, the pigs; it washes through the kitchen taking the pots, the pans; everything into the sea. These are phenomena that people are now experiencing, which they say never happened in the past. They used to have high tides, but they know it was only half a metre – but that has changed so much in the last 15 years.
When we have this rising sea level and unusual high tides and things like that, it actually destroys whatever crop is grown not necessarily just along the beach or coastline, but it also affects inland. A lot of people plant swamp taro and this needs a certain salinity to be able to grow well and produce tubers. But when you have extra salt it disturbs the level of salinity-it becomes too salty and it affects the crop. It rots the tubers and in the long run it kills off everything. This affects not only the current harvest but also the ability of people to replant the following season. Too much salt in the soil also affects the growing of bananas, bread fruit, even coconuts. A certain level of salt is suitable for these plants but too much kills them.
Our rainfall patterns have changed too, in two major ways: one is that we don’t get the rains when we expect them and the second is that when we get the rain it is too much-or maybe too little. The unusual rain pattern also affects crops. Too much rainwater disturbs the balance. So it is both ways, and these are things our people have no control over. We cannot control sea level rise and we cannot control how much rain falls onto the crops. Our people cannot protect themselves from these things and so the people simply go with what happens.
Swamp taro is the staple food of these islanders. As swamp taro has declined due to increasing soil salinity the diet of the community has changed drastically. People start to depend on imported foods such as rice, flour, noodles, sugar, tea, and canned meat and fish. And for these, people are dependent on supply boats. There is a time known as the time of ‘hunger’ when the boats that bring the imported foods, medicines, etc, do not follow the monthly schedules and this is a very common occurrence, especially when it is not bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber) season. People then, for a month or more, eat only fish and coconuts, which greatly affects their wellbeing especially young children. Malnutrition then becomes an ever-increasing issue among children, and under-nutrition among adults.
The change from a very traditional concentrated and nutritious diet to a foreign and less nutritious one has resulted in many problems for the islanders. Traditionally, our people are very healthy but now we are seeing increased levels of obesity and non-communicable diseases. There is an increase in diabetes and high blood pressure, diseases that we did not know of in the past. These problems are further compounded by the lack of basic medicines, diagnostic equipment, technicians and qualified medical staff in rural areas, resulting in patients not knowing their statuses and so succumbing to disease. The fact that rural health facilities lack trained nurses means referrals of patients is virtually non-existent and many people do not have the money to pay for the boat fares to Honiara because of their limited resources. In these situations, people die of treatable diseases in the islands.
The forced change in diet affects families in other ways too. For our very rural people who are subsistence farmers and who live off the land, it is a struggle to be able to buy the rice, which means that what little crops they have, they have to sell or, if they have children who are working in towns and cities, they depend on them. That is one of the patterns we are now experiencing-that our families who live in the villages now depend on the children who are working and earning money to actually supply the rice for them. And this puts a strain on our community.
Communities in Solomon Islands have been identified to be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and associated sea-level rise. Some evidence of these impacts is already visible. For example, the artificial island of Walande, located off the coast of South Malaita, has been submerged by rising sea-levels in recent years and the community has been faced with relocation onto the nearby mainland. Low-lying coastal communities across the country are threatened by similar scenarios. Scientific data is urgently needed to understand the environmental changes that communities are facing in the Solomon Islands today and in the future. The Anglican Church of Melanesia Environment Observatory aims to create an extensive database of environmental change across the country, based on local observations of Anglican communities, which will increase local understanding of climate-related issues and build resilience in vulnerable communities.
At present, the ACoM Environment Observatory consists of four different monitoring test sites, located at Fanalei Island, Walande, Selwyn College and Red Beach, Honiara. These test sites are coordinated by trained representatives of the respective communities, the “Green Apostles”. At the test sites, continuous data on temperature, rainfall, water levels and shoreline change are collected. The observatory project is managed by a local ACoM staff member, Freda Fataka, and supported by a team of international scientists, including Dr Adam Bobbette (University of New South Wales) and Marie Schlenker (University of Southampton).
The first 6-months of environmental data has been successfully collected at the test sites and has been shared with the research team for analysis. While it is too early to see any trends in the data, it has been a great opportunity to review the set up and organisation of the observatory. In February, Selwyn College was flooded and evacuated; in March, the Solomon Islands Government declared a State of Emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic; in April, Cyclone Harold caused widespread destruction in the Pacific and affected the test sites at Selwyn College, Red Beach, and Fanalei. The observatory has been through some extremely testing situations this year. The good news: while there have been temporary disruptions to the data collection and some adjustments needed to be made to the measurement structures, data collection in the ACoM Environment Observatory continues and the spirits of all participating people are high. Freda highlighted that her visits to the test sites showed that Green Apostles and community members “were committed faithfully and put all their efforts towards the success of the project”. We look forward to continuing to work on this exciting project.
A six-member team from the ACoM Office in Vanuatu and Diocese of Vanuatu & New Caledonia (DOVNC) are currently in Pentecost following reports received from the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Harold in April 2020.
Team Leader Fr. Benjamin Tosiro said: “During the visit, the team will be running training to equip Clergy, ACoM School Principals and their councils on various important topics to equip members of the Church during times of any disaster.
“COVID-19 hand washing awareness and distribution of relief supplies will also be carried out. Relief supplies include food, gardening tools, handwashing facilities for Churches, and Spiritual encouragement booklets for parishes,” Fr. Tosiro said.
“The ACoM Education officer who is part of the team will be accessing ACoM schools affected by the cyclone on the island,” he continued.
“Clergymen from four regions on Pentecost, including the Mothers’ Union Leaders, Youth Leaders, Sunday School Leaders and chairmen of the parishes will also be involved in this training.”
The team arrived in Pentecost on 24th June will be there until 8th July 2020.