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Pacific leaders urge action on climate change

Kerri Ritchie reported this story on Tuesday, July 28, 2009 12:46:00

PETER CAVE: The aid agency Oxfam says Australia and New Zealand need to stop being part of the
problem and start being part of the solution.

It estimates that climate change could result in 75 million refugees in the Asia-Pacific region
over the next 40 years.

People living in the islands, like the leader of the tiny territory of Tokelau, say they're
watching helplessly as climate change ravages their countries.

New Zealand correspondent Kerri Ritchie reports.

KERRI RITCHIE: When the New Zealand Prime Minister John Key visited Samoa this month, the leader of
the tiny pacific nation of Tokelau boarded a run-down old boat and travelled for 24 hours so he
could speak to him.

Foua Toloa wants New Zealand and Australia to know that his people are in very real danger.

He says climate change is already leaving its ugly mark on his country.

FOUA TOLOA: The forces and the devastation and even the inundation of the land is even worse. You
recall, 1914 you have a cyclone, there was a huge cyclone, 1966 and then it lapsed. But the current
years it's been "bang" - every year you expect a cyclone

KERRI RITCHIE: Foua Toloa says the rising sea waters are stealing their food.

FOUA TOLOA: Back home it's an atoll, very low. When salt water comes in, you know, it solidifies to
the stage that you need so much rain, you know, to dissolve that salt. And it's killing a lot of
vegetation, even the town, the swampy town (inaudible), it's effecting. So it takes a lot of time
to break before the next cyclone.

KERRI RITCHIE: Further north from Tokelau are more coral atolls which make up the nation of
Kiribas.

Forty-eight-year-old Palaneesi Alofa Pidatatee (phonetic) lives in a rented house in the capital.
She told Radio New Zealand all her coconut trees are dead and every day she fears for her country's
future.

PALANEESI ALOFA PIDATATEE: I notice that the high tide, it's like a waterfall. Water is just
flowing though my front yard and I chased the water and I found it was sea water.

KERRI RITCHIE: Barry Coates is the executive director of Oxfam New Zealand.

BARRY COATES: It's a community of 3,000 people offshore of Bougainville and Papua New Guinea who
are having to move their people and 3,000 people is not an insignificant move and that's been an
example of the kind of forced migration that's going to have to take place on a far larger scale.

KERRI RITCHIE: Barry Coates says if Australia and New Zealand don't press for a decent deal in
climate change negotiations they're dooming these small Pacific Islands out of existence.

BARRY COATES: You know, if you can imagine for these atoll countries with a few metres above sea
level as the highest point, they've got nowhere to go. We actually expect that Australia and New
Zealand will be better neighbours and will do more themselves to put forward positive proposals
into the negotiations.

KERRI RITCHIE: Recently the President of Kiribas pleaded with Australia and New Zealand to open
their doors to any Kiribas citizens who become climate change refugees.

Barry Coates from Oxfam believes that people who are displaced should first be moved to higher
ground in their own country. If that's not possible, he thinks they should go to a nearby nation.

Kiribas resident Palaneesi Alofa Pidatatee (phonetic) doesn't want to go anywhere.

PALANEESI ALOFA PIDATATEE: We never thought that we have to move. No, that is not an option to us.
We do not want to move. Because if we move away from our islands, we have lost everything. We will
lose our identity. You cannot create Kiribas or Tuvalu or Fiji in someone else's country.

KERRI RITCHIE: Tokelau's Premier Foua Toloa says it is very worrying times for Pacific Islanders.

FOUA TOLOA: We are in the dilemma that the effect of whatever is done outside the control of
Tokelau is impacting us. So when you say afraid, I'm very much. Maybe hopefully one day we don't
wake up underneath the water.

KERRI RITCHIE: Climate change is expected to be a hot topic at next week's Pacific Islands Forum in
Cairns.

This is Kerri Ritchie in Auckland reporting for The World Today.