SYDNEY - Environmental campaigners from a dozen Pacific island nations have used traditional canoes to try to blockade the world’s largest coal port at Newcastle in eastern Australia. The Pacific Island Climate Warriors have come to Australia with a warning that any expansion of coal mining will further damage the islands of the South Pacific.
The activists say greenhouse gas emissions are making their island homes more vulnerable to drought, more intense cyclones and erosion. A spokesman said the main threat is rising sea levels that have already forced islanders to abandon low-lying villages, including some in Fiji and Tuvalu.
Protestors were ordered by the authorities to stay away from busy shipping lanes, but despite the warnings and threats of fines, police on jet skis were forced to tow some demonstrators out from the path of freighters leaving the port. However, no arrests were made.
Activist Arianne Kassman from Papua New Guinea said although the port was not shut down, the protest was a success.
“Whether or not we stop the coal ships we believe that we have been successful. We have brought our stories, we have brought our human stories, our human face to climate change, to the impact of climate change and, you know, that is what we wanted to do to highlight the impacts that the Pacific islands are facing, and to also, you know, bring to light the fact that Australia’s commitment to expanding the fossil fuel industry is also expanding the destruction of the Pacific islands,” said Kassman.
Earlier this week, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott angered conservationists when he predicted that coal would be the world’s main source of energy for decades to come.
Australia is one of the world’s leading coal exporters. Cheap and plentiful supplies of fossil fuels help generate around 80 percent of Australia’s electricity, making the nation one of the developed world’s worst per capital emitters of greenhouse gases.
The protest in Newcastle highlights an ongoing struggle in Australia between the economic imperative of sustaining prosperity through the sale of natural resources and the necessity of reducing emissions to stave off environmental disaster.