A Matter of Survival

Interview with Fei Tevi, Pacific Conference of Churches, Fiji

By Christina Kamp

Pacific islands countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change, which becomes a life and death issue in the Pacific. The impacts of climate change vary according to the geographical formation of each country. To find out how climate change is affecting people's lives and the tourism sector, we spoke to Fe'iloakitau Kaho Tevi, General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, on the occasion of his visit to Germany in September 2008.

TW: What does climate change mean for people in the Pacific? And for tourism?

Fei Tevi: In the Pacific, all the effects of climate change are exacerbated because of the smallness of the islands. Our islands are sinking. Settlers are starting to leave their islands, others are preparing for their relocation, without any hope to ever return to their homes. For coral atoll countries such as Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and other smaller islets of bigger volcanic countries, rising sea levels due to global warming lead to the erosion of coastal lands. We have experienced drinking water sources becoming highly salinated. Where water is salty, human beings cannot live. Our food security is in danger, resulting in the increased importation of staple foods such as rice and root crops. For bigger volcanic countries such as Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu and Tonga, the intensity of rainfalls is increasing, causing flooding and loss of crops and lives. Another danger is the increased frequency of cyclones and changes in temperatures. Our coastal ecosystems are suffering disruption. Climate change leads to a loss of cultural lands and will cause displacement of people who live near the shorelines.

These climate change impacts will surely dent these countries' income from tourism. Changes in the global climate will affect tourism in several ways. The direct impacts include higher temperatures and less water availability. Indirectly, the environment changes to such an extent that it results in a loss of attractions, including reef attractions and biodiversity. Coral bleaching and beach erosion are classical examples for what we are experiencing. With new policies being introduced to combat climate change, e.g. carbon taxes on travel, we have to expect changes in tourist mobility. A growing proportion of consumers may be reluctant to undertake medium and long haul air travel.

TW: What are the possibilities for people to adapt to climate change? What kind of adaptation may be feasible in tourism?

Fei Tevi: There is a need to gather concrete information on the costs and benefits of different adaptation options. The transition from tourism to another form of industry is an option that some of the countries need to consider. A better strategy would be a form of tourism that is environmentally friendly. We have observed that tourism and its development have also become a destructive tidal wave for the Pacific people's livelihoods. In Tahiti, local people compete with tourists for freshwater.

New forms of tourism should include learning tours on climate change and its impacts on Pacific communities. Airlines and hotels could be requested to put aside money from their earnings toward renewable energy, mitigation and adaptation efforts in their locales, and to encourage tourists to contribute as well. The key players in the tourism industry in the Pacific should look at reducing their reliance on oil and invest in renewable energy.

TW: What kind of solidarity do you expect from the tourism sector?

Fei Tevi: Tourism should engender a sense of "tourism in solidarity", inspiring the tourists to come not only for "fun" purposes, but with a sense of social and environmental contribution. There is a need to raise awareness about greenhouse gas emissions and provide user friendly information to tourism businesses. Country level tourism accreditation and standards programs should be enhanced through incorporation of climate change mitigation measures and benchmarking. In educational curricula and business training schemes, climate change and sustainable tourism should be included. Tourism businesses should take a long-term risk management approach to climate change and help us keep our life styles.

During his visit to Germany in September 2008, Fei Tevi and other "climate witnesses" from different parts of the world called upon the German government to take a leadership role in the fight against climate change and to refrain from further investments in or the expansion of coal-fired power plants.

(680 words, 57 lines, September 2008, TW 52)