La Croix, October 2019, by La Croix International staff (with Catholic News Service)
Papua New Guinea
Thousands of Pacific islanders are living in fear for their future because of climate change, according to the head of the local Church.
Cardinal John Ribat of Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea) told Catholic News Service that the devastating effects of rising sea levels had already forced coastal dwellers either to move to higher ground inland or even to abandon their small islands altogether and take refuge on PNG’s major island.
He fears thousands more will eventually be displaced, increasing the likelihood of social conflict in the region.
“The real issue is climate change,” said Cardinal Ribat from Rome, where he has been participating in the Synod of Bishops’ special assembly on Amazonia.
He also pointed a finger at mining companies and owners of palm oil plantations who, he says, persuaded villagers to sign away their rights to the land they treasured so much.
The money paid to the displaced families didn’t come near to compensating them for the loss of the rights to, and use of, land that was a fundamental part of their identity, he said.
The loss of land to mining companies has long been a thorny issue in PNG, where Church leaders only recently denounced one company’s attempts to start seabed mining off the coast.
Concern turned to horror on Oct. 18, when the government shut down the operations of a Chinese nickel mining company after it accidentally dumped more than 50,000 gallons of toxic slurry into the coast in Madang province.
PNG is only a fraction of the size of the Amazon but is also characterized by numerous remote communities, which pose challenges for pastoral work.