JAMES BHAGWAN – TIDES ARE CHANGING
OPENING SPEECH AT THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE “THE FUTURE OF THE OCEANS AND SEAS” – ERÖFFNUNGSVORTRAG BEI DER INTERNATIONALEN KONFERENZ „DIE ZUKUNFT DER OZEANE UND MEERE“ AM 7. JUNI 2023 IN BERLIN
Der Text von Rev. James Bhagwan, Generalsekretär der Pazifischen Konferenz der Kirchen, präsentiert auf der von fair oceans und Brot für die Welt organisierte Konferenz „Die Zukunft der Ozeane und Meere“, ist im Wortlaut wiedergegeben.
Die Überschrift lehnt sich an das Motto des diesjährigen UN World Oceans Day: Planet Ocean: tides are changing.
James Bhagwan: Tides are Changing
Thank you, Kai and my sincere appreciation to Fair Oceans for this opportunity and also to Bread for the World for helping me be here on a very interesting and long trip that I will be taking in the next few weeks.
On Monday morning, which was your Sunday night, I flew out of Fiji on my way here to Berlin. And as I left, there was a vigil taking place in Suva, the capital city of Fiji. Monday was, of course, World Environmental Day or World Environment Day.
I am on the ocean side
But this week, dedicated to our one global ocean with a themed planet, ocean tides are changing. We held a vigil dedicated to the ocean. The vigil reiterated our role as stewards with the statement: I am on the ocean side. Individual brought together specific government representatives, faith leaders, civil society, and members of the faithful Saint Lukes Anglican Church.
The Pacific Islands Forum’ deputy general secretary Dr. Philemon Manoni, who is soon to become the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, renewed calls to everyone there to remember their responsibilities towards maintaining the health of the ocean. We need a healthy ocean for us, for our children and for our future, he said. Last year, the Pacific leaders endorsed the 2050 strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent and at the heart of the 2050 strategy lies the recognition that our ocean geography, our ocean resources and our ocean identity is central to our future well-being and security as Pacific people.
Four specific people, the generations past, present and future, are entrusted with the guardianship of this vast, liquid continent of Oceania. The ocean is central to Pacific Island culture, spirituality, and identity. The Christian faith observed by almost 90% of the Pacific Community, acknowledges the primordial ocean over which the spirit of God hovered before creation of the world. In our indigenous spirituality, connected with the origin of island communities, the islands are fished out of the ocean or sent from the sky into the ocean. For us, the ocean is not just the source of life, but it is alive. It is full of life.
She is mother. She is sister. She is part of the integral web of life that sustains the planet as a source of oxygen, Phytoplankton, sequestration of carbon by sea grass. She regulates the temperature of the planet by her dances of the currents.
This perspective of Pacific people is our understanding of the intrinsic value of the ocean and the nature of services provided to the planet as a whole by oceans. As we in the Pacific reclaim our spiritual language of relationship with the ocean, as mother and sister. We relinquish the concept of ownership for one of relationship. We can no more exploit the ocean than we can exploit our mothers or our sisters.
Each generation as those before and those who will come after are called by indigenous knowledge and spirituality and faith to embody a profound respect for creation as an interconnected web of life as caring and resilient community, and valuing well-being above profit.
The balance between environment and development may be considered novel in most advanced countries, but it’s not a new idea for us. This has been our approach in the Blue Pacific since the very beginning. As large ocean states the climate, the tides, cyclones and health of our fish stocks and forests, our rainfall … All these things define our everyday life. You will often hear the words Blue Pacific used by Pacific Islanders, and it’s more than just a fashionable term in the Pacific region, it is a reminder that what some people consider the world’s smallest countries are in fact the largest.
Measured in land area, most Pacific islands look like a speck on the map. Yet Kiritimati, the Marshall Islands, the rest of Micronesia, the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea are all among the top 20 largest exclusive economic zones in the planet. And if you consider the French territories in the Pacific also. Many Pacific Islanders are born and lived their entire lives within short walk of the shore. Unless of course, you’re from the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. For us, the ocean is our playground, our workplace, our life. And managing this vast expanse requires a significant effort. Deepwater fisheries need careful stewardship as to coastal fish stocks and marine habitats. Each of these areas comes with its own challenges and its own priorities. If the specifics, small island developing states are to become big ocean states that they aspire to be they must find a balance in protecting and managing both.
And climate change adds additional complexity to this increasingly severe cyclone impact coastal areas, rising sea levels and warming ocean waters, and leading entire deep water fish populations to migrate eastward. And these exacerbate the pressures that Pacific nations face. As many of you are aware Climate Change Conference is currently underway in Bonn. In 2017, at COP 23 also in Bonn, Pacific Island and small other small island developing states began the push for the inclusion of oceans in the UNFCCC process in particular for sustained UNFCCC dialogue on oceans and climate change. That includes what we call talanoa or dialogue on climate change impacts on tuna and coastal fisheries as food supply, climate change, impacts on migration of marine animals, innovating finance or ocean resilience and loss and damage for marine and coastal protection in the region, protection of coastal blue carbon sinks, ocean rights – the rights for the ocean and many other issues, including sea level rise and its legal implications.
What does it mean as the sea level rises and what impact does that have on the territory of Pacific Island states. At the same time, as we looked to the ocean to sustain life on this planet, our region and our Pacific Ocean continues to face serious threats, not the least of which is the issue of nuclear waste. In the Pacific we face the impact of the nuclear legacy of 318 nuclear detonations in our islands, the equivalent of 9010 Hiroshima bombs, or between 108 to 130 kilotons of TNT.
My fish is your fish
The Mora atoll in French occupied Polynesia and ruined Dome on Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands continues to leak nuclear waste from these tests into our ocean. And the very currents that connect our islands as liquid autobahns perhaps now circulate this pollution. We have a saying in the Pacific: My fish is your fish. Symbolising that what happens in one part of the Pacific, one part of our oceanic continent affects all of us.
And now we have Japan preparing to dump more than 1,000,000 tonnes of irradiated water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Islands Forum has refuted the claims by Japan that the water to be dumped is sick. The growing Indo Pacific militarization between the United States, the UK and Australia and allies on one side and China on the other also threatens our safety of our Pacific Ocean in a new Cold War. Amidst all of these challenges, our Pacific communities are facing a second wave of extractive industries moving from the land to the sea under the ideology of the blue economy. Our communities, if not our governments, are deeply concerned about the blue economy agenda surfacing throughout the Pacific that has corrupted political spaces, policies and development priorities and aspirations, and will endanger, not sustain, the lives of our Pacific people, our communities, our environment, our social and cultural well-being. Its planned processes would challenge, not uphold the traditions, cultures, and values of Pacific people.
As we continue to closely look at the blue economy agenda, we have realised or discerned the following: The first is that the blue economy agenda reflects the intention of corporate interests. This intention is to capture and claim our Pacific Ocean as the next frontier for resource experimentation, extraction, and exploitation. The concern is that the blue escalation of industrial exploitation of ocean resources will exacerbate the cumulative human impacts that diminish our Ocean’s ability to maintain its life supporting function for this planet.
The blue economy narrative is a scramble to control the Pacific Ocean and its natural resources through a second wave of economic and political colonisation, which we in the Pacific are calling blue colonisation. The impact on the Pacific Ocean’s integrity is to be worried about the scientific research studies inform us that we have reached the stage where the Pacific Ocean’s integrity has been severely compromised. Our ocean needs healing and restoration, not furthering industrial action for resource exploitation and extraction from its waters. Consequently, actions, principles and values that promote and protect the integrity of the oceans, its life support systems and functions of nature should now be in the main focus. We also find that the use of identity and indigenous references in the blue frame, while applicable in the context, hides the explicit intent to access and exploit specific resources. What is touted to be sustainable is contested.
If we take into consideration ecosystem functions, the climate crisis and ocean health versus the extractive industries like deep sea mining, large scale fisheries, sustainability will naturally be surely compromised. This will challenge or negate the effectiveness of any blue economy plans to sustainably manage oceanic resources at the industrial scale that is propagated.
The indigenous people of the Pacific have their own governance, customary tenure systems and collective ownership rights and responsibilities over land and seas, inclusive of coastlines, reefs, fishing grounds, subsoil and beyond. Often when we talk about managing the environment or managing resources, we hear the words ridge to reef – from the mountain to the coastline. For Pacific people, we go all the way down to the seabed it is all part of the whole, we do not separate it. So, these have been in place long before the advent of the Western colonisers in the Pacific. These indigenous peoples’ rights have been recognised and duly protected under the ILO and UN conventions. And it’s unfortunate that there is a lack of clear process being imposed for national and regional level dialogue without soliciting the free, prior, and informed consent of Pacific indigenous peoples and communities, who are the traditional owners and custodians of the ocean. This is a blatant breach of this fundamental basic human right. And moreover, the current framing of the blue economy narrative is limited to the economic and scientifically exploitative language. These further limits the engagements of our people who speak a more cultural, more spiritual language when they refer to the ocean.
We also recognise that the impacts of COVID-19 may cause our own governments to view their ocean resources as the basis for national economic recovery. However, we are reminding our governments of their communities’ dependency on these same resources as their only insurance policy against dire poverty, food insecurity and to protect local community interests to sustain ocean health for future generations.
The economic development through the industrialization of natural resources on land has already proven unsustainable. There is an overemphasis in ocean governance on the economic assets of the blue economy. For example, deep sea mining, large scale fish industries, etcetera. And this extracted model is contradictory to our Pacific way of life. It challenges our spirituality, our indigenous wisdom, and denies the intrinsic value of the ocean and our right to be self-determined. Our Pacific culture and spirituality and identity ebbs and flows with the Ocean times. Connecting our relationships with past, present and the future and regulating our very existence through long term ocean health. The rhetoric of the dominant blue economy agenda distorts this relationship into commodities. It marginalises specific peoples’ voices, allowing for the exploitation and extraction of marine and human life for the economy, the economic wealth of a few at the expense of so many.
As I was travelling here, I noted a renewed focus on the Pacific by Germany recently – particularly from a diplomatic or a foreign relations perspective. We’re about to open a new embassy in Fiji. As a representative of approximately 80% of the Pacific humans’ population, who by faith belonged to the member Churches of the Pacific Conference of Churches please allow me to conclude with some friendly advice to you, my German sisters and brothers.
Engagement in the Pacific, meaningful engagement in the Pacific, is dependent on a very important currency: of cash relationship. Relationship based on similar values, relationship based on deep listening and relationship based on integrity of intention. We are continuing in the Pacific to fight for decolonization on many areas beyond just political decolonization. Self-determination for us is also economic. It’s ecological, it’s educational, and it is ideological. And we are very wary of those who, as in the past, promise much but take much more in return. And so, we need commitments around the ocean and climate exit, including sustainable sea transport. We need a precautionary pause, if not a full stop, to deep sea mining in its current form. We need a less exploitative model of looking at the resources of the ocean. And as I mentioned earlier this morning: to talk about the ocean in the Pacific is to talk about our mother, our sister, our daughter. And we can no longer watch her being – and I apologise for my strong language here: We can no longer watch her being prostituted or raped to satisfy the desire for more from the global north. If you are our friend, we seek your support in protecting her. In celebrating her. And in letting her nourish this planet.
Thank you very much.