The Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania (Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, New Zealand, CEPAC – the rest of the Pacific) is currently meeting in Port Moresby. We come from a multitude of island nation States spread throughout the Pacific Ocean.
We are delighted to be here in PNG enjoying the hospitality, smiles and great welcome of its people.
The theme of our gathering is “Care for our common home of Oceania: a sea of possibilities”. With minds raised to God, the Creator of the greatness and beauty of creation (Laudato Si’, 12), we have reflected deeply on the particular geography of our region and on our responsibility, stemming from our faith, for it (cf. Laudato Si’, 64). While the sea certainly is a vital source of life and well-being for our people, we also feel at times battered by climatic events and vulnerable to the winds of multinational businesses and political intrigue.
With great joy, we welcomed Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, to our Assembly. The Cardinal reiterated to us Pope Francis’ vision of the world as being one common home (cf. Laudato Si’). This insight brings to the fore the intricate connections between nations, economies, and communities of peoples, as well as between the land and the sea.
While this portrayal of our world may be obvious on one level, it harbours an ethical obligation on multinational businesses and nations to transcend particular interests and step up to shoulder the grave responsibility of building a world economy based on care and sustainability (cf. Laudato Si’, 165).
An urgent ethical challenge facing the worldwide human family today concerns economic development dependent upon fossil fuel based energy, especially coal. More than any other factor this form of commercial growth is contributing to destructive climate change. Every day our people are suffering from the negative - indeed sometimes disastrous - effects of global warming. These include rising sea levels, rising ocean temperatures, acidification of waters and coral bleaching, and threats to bio-diversity (cf. Laudato Si’ 41) alongside the more widely noticed increasing extreme weather patterns of cyclones, typhoons and storms.
We therefore ask, is our people’s cry for change drowned out by the din of commercial lobbying and greed? Why is it that notwithstanding the indisputable negative consequences upon our human ecology, still many governments not only permit but support the expansion of coal-based industries? For whom and what is this myopic “growth”? We draw attention to article 195 of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ which unmasks the often ignored long-term social costs of leaving unchecked the pursuit of short-term profits, through allegedly cheaper (but exploitative or destructive) means of production. Sooner or later future governments will have to address these social health and environmental costs and thus in effect subsidize the very industrial bases they should be curbing.
As people of faith, we remain leaders filled with hope. Conversion of attitude is the catalyst to convince political parties and governments to address climate change. For too long we have been subject to the shallow defence that legislating for effective industrial change would be ‘political suicide’. We reject this belief and appeal to all people, particularly those in the continents of industrial strength, to hear our voice from the south. In your hands lies the power to make sustainable, responsible, economic development a political non-negotiable for voters.
We are disturbed to learn that since the 2015 Paris agreement, many nations have reneged on their promises to limit the increase in average global temperature to below 1.5 degrees centigrade. That is the pathway of gross irresponsibility. We implore governments to end the game of delays, posturing and tradeoffs and instead to embrace the courageous leadership and pro-active regulatory frameworks your peoples expect of you.
The young people, present at our conference, have also been voices of hope. We echo their conviction that the oceans offer life to us and a sea of opportunities for worthwhile long-term satisfying employment. What a stark contrast the murky unknown world of deep-sea mining is to the pristine possibilities of coastal eco-tourism. The growing ‘new voices’ of individuals and entire communities speaking out against deep-sea mining echo something of those who have for years been expressing grave concerns in regard to deforestation when relentless exploitation of resources, with little regard for negative ecological consequences and peoples’ welfare, is left unregulated or unmeasured.
In conclusion, we offer our support to all businesses with a strong ethic of care for workers and the environment, and we again implore governments to exercise responsible leadership in favour of the common good, future generations and our mother earth.
From Port Moresby, 16 April 2018
✠ Peter Loy Chong, President of the FCBCO, Archbishop of Suva, Fiji
✠ Charles Drennan, Vice President of the FCBCO, Bishop of Palmerston North, New Zealand
✠ Anton Bal, Bishop of Kundiawa, Papua New Guinea
✠ Chris Cardone OP, Archbishop of Honiara, Solomon Islands
✠ Tim Harris, Bishop of Townsville, Australia
✠ Paul Martin SM, Bishop of Christchurch, New Zealand
✠ Michael McCarthy, Bishop of Rockhampton, Australia
✠ Peter Brown CSsR, Bishop of Samoa-Pago Pago, America Samoa