Program: MSc Climate Change
Research/Thesis Topic: The social and cultural impacts of climate change in Kiribati: The exploration of the relocation strategy to Fiji and its implications on cultural and social values.
I am Fetalai Gagaeolo, from Samoa and currently undertaking Masters of Science studies in Climate Change with PACE-SD in the University of the South Pacific sponsored by European Union. I graduated in 2011 from USP with a BSc in Environmental Science. In 2012, I had the opportunity to pursue Post-Graduate Diploma in Climate Change under the Aus AID Scholarship scheme with PACE-SD, USP. I am very grateful to both Aus AID and my current sponsor EU for giving me this golden opportunity of a lifetime to pursue studies on an issue that I was so passionate about. This is indeed an opportunity to extend and broaden my knowledge, understanding and experience on such a dynamic and diverse issue; climate change. It has been overwelming and I got to meet so many people who had the common interest as mines. Through this scholarship, I have gained unexpected benefits such as being selected to attend the UNFCCC Conference in Bangkok and interestingly COP 18 in Doha 2012. These were more than blessings that I could ever think of. I am a more socialized person who loves to interact with people around. Meeting new people and friends has become a habit and its one way of getting out of my comfort zone and extend connections with people around me.
Studying Climate change has given me more knowledge and interest to deal with human lives, work with communities who deserve the most help. Working with communities as well as the goal to study human-environment interactions was the foundation of my interest to carry out this research. I have chosen to work with vulnerable communities of Kiribati since it is the perfect place to witness the reality of climate change. Exploration of how sea level rise and climate change could impact their social and cultural values as well as the implications of relocation on culture and social values are all part of the study. Social and cultural values are part of peoples lives and we can not afford to lose them. Climate Change and sea level rise in the context of Kiribati deals with human rights, right to their land and ocean and loss of land culture enhancing loss in a sense of belonging and identity. These effects threatens Kiribati yet they are the least contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. As a Climate Change student, I have seen that these issues have to be explored, researched, documented in depth and addressed as urgently as possible for policy making at both the national and international level. It is now common knowledge that climate is changing and the effects are undoubtedly inescapable, and irreversible, thus time to adapt to current and future change is now.
I have always had the urge and desire to go and witness myself the sufferings that the communities of Kiribati are going through. As climate change ambassadors, we have to be with them, sit, eat, share, sleep and feel the risks and the breakthrough’s that they are going through everyday. We have to set foot on their grounds, get to hear from them and their heartbreaking stories instead of just talking about it, and doing nothing about it. Climate change is an issue which deserves attention and urgent response from the international community due to its far-reaching, long term consequences and uncontrollable threats on human lives and their livelihoods world wide. The effects could go beyond physical and environmental issues as they could possibly affect the national psyche. Meanwhile, as time goes by, the strife between vulnerable communities and the changing weather patterns, rising oceans continues, hence the realistic possibility of losing their homes, lands, cultures, identities and social relations. Climate Change has the potential to influence cultures and social relations of people through the depletion of natural resources in which indigenous people have intimate relationships with. This is currently the situation in Kiribati, the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. These direct threats will account for the fall of once harmonious and peaceful societies and their cultures. Predictions that sea level rise will continue to rise will be an ultimate reason of the displacement and relocation of inhabitants into other places which will contribute into more social and cultural losses. Therefore this research is important as it collects data that will feed into policy making so that these policies and concensus in the national and international level will be realistic because it all contributes to the shaping up of the future of vulnerable populations such as Kiribati.