Break Free from Fossil Fuels for Our Collective Survival

Pacific Islander and allied protesters in kayaks and traditional canoes paddle in front of a ship as it leaves a coal port in Newcastle, Australia in 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

Break Free from Fossil Fuels for Our Collective Survival

My name is Arianne Kassman. I am a Pacific Climate Warrior from Papua New Guinea. I want to tell you about why it's important for my people, and for the Pacific, that fossil fuels remain in the ground.

I am fourth generation Tatana, a descendent of a strong beautiful woman called Dihanai. I carry the name of her daughter Philomena's husband and my Great Grandfather Arien. My Great Grandfather worked as a Plantation Manager and together with his eldest son, Allan, he worked in two villages called Pinu and Obo. He was a fair, honest and hard-working man; this earned him great respect among the local labourers from Pinu village, and in turn, was gifted Toutu Village. This is where both my maternal grandparents are laid to rest.

Last week marked one year since my family laid my grandmother to rest in the village, and so to commemorate that, we travelled to the village to celebrate her life with a Holy Mass. As I sat at their grave sides last Sunday, I was overcome with joy and peace being surrounded by family.

Rising sea levels is becoming so normal it scares me. Will I ever be able to take my children to where my grandparents are buried? Will they ever get to see this beautiful place that was a gift to my Great Grandfather and the place that gave birth to my identity?

We already know that the path the world is on is a dangerous one. The COP21 in Paris was such an important international gathering because it could decide the fate of humanity.

The introduction of coal mining into my beautiful Papua New Guinea is going to destroy the environment, it is going to cause health risks for those living near the mines, and it is going to contribute to a substantial increase in PNG's carbon emissions.

Last year, Mayur Energy reported that PNG has some of the cleanest coal in the world. But we all know there is no such thing as clean coal.

So why are we allowing this to go ahead?

In the same report, Mayur Energy tell us that we can generate 50mW of power and meet our country's target of increasing our people's access to electricity from 11% to 70%. While these seem like great figures and bring something our people need, we are taking away future generations rights to having a place to call home.

Development is a term we often hear in PNG. The conversation has almost normally been framed as: How can we develop our nation and alleviate poverty? This needs to change and should instead be formulated: "Cost of Development vs. Cost of Inaction on Climate Change."

We need to tell our leaders that as long as we continue to allow coal mining to take place and increase our carbon emissions, we threaten the existence of humanity. That while they are working hard in the name of development, we will no longer have a country of people to serve and develop.

According to PNG's 'Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC)' the country will make "a big effort" to reduce fossil fuel emissions by transitioning as far as possible to renewable energy with a target of 100% renewable energy by 2030.

Are we committed to this or do we want to profit from wrecking the planet?

We know as a country that this is what we need to do to ensure that we are securing a future for generations to come.

We need to begin the transition, we need to move away from our reliance on fossil fuels and think about what we are leaving behind for future generations.

We need political will and political commitment if we really are serious about meeting our target of 100% renewable by 2030.

There is no greater strength, than that of a love for our islands, our people, our homes, our culture and our traditions. Our land is our life, it is the birthplace of our identity and our traditions.

Let's take a bold step and start making the transition. Let's keep the dirty coal in the ground. Let's work towards securing and ensuring a future for generations to come. Let's take action to save humanity.

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