[Press release]

NEWCASTLE, 17 October 2014 — Thirty Pacific Climate Warriors [2]  were joined by hundreds of Australians to peacefully blockade the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle today and called on the country to stop its destructive expansion of fossil fuels causing climate change.[3]

The 30 warriors have used traditional canoes, built in their islands and brought to Australia, to stop coal ships from entering and leaving the port for the day. In doing so they have shown the fossil fuel industry that they will stand up to Australia’s radical plans to double coal exports and drastically increase gas production that are causing the climate change threatening their homelands. [4]

This occurred on the same day hundreds of Australians closed their bank accounts with Australia’s big four banks to make a statement against their financing of fossil fuel expansion projects. The ‘National Day of Divestment Action’ is part of a broader international campaign to shift investment capital away from the fossil fuel industry. ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac have so far lost over $200 million to banks like Bendigo Bank which has a policy against investment in fossil fuels. Since its launch in the US in 2012, the fossil fuel divestment movement has gathered pace globally with a growing number of institutions (from universities, cities, pension funds, religious and medical institutions) all committing to divest from fossil fuels.[5]

Pacific Islands will bare the brunt of the impacts of climate change with increasing sea levels, floods and intense storms. Milañ Loeak, a 26-year-old warrior from the Marshall Islands and daughter of the President of the Marshall Islands Chris Loeak, said her islands were already feeling the impacts.

“I’ve seen my people and my islands suffer the impacts of climate change through droughts and  floods from high tides.  

“The impacts of climate change in my country has very real impacts on people lives,” she said.  “I have a close friend whose house was destroyed by the king tides earlier this year, and that was her whole life,” she said. “She told me ‘the sound of the ocean used to be a constant comfort in my life, lulling me to sleep. And in such a short time, it destroyed my home.”

Mikaele Maiava, a warrior from Tokelau, said that after years of failed global climate negotiations it was essential for the Warriors to take direction action to stop climate change.

“It is very important for us to take direct actions against climate change because it is threatening our lives and our islands. Our land is the most valuable treasure in our lives and the impacts of climate change will destroy it. We don’t want this to happen and we will not allow it to happen.”

Maiava directly targeted the Australian Government for their lack of action on the issue.

“Australia is regarded as the biggest member of the Pacific family. Their exporting of fossil fuels however have made them an unloving family member,” he said. “This is why we are taking a stand for all other members of the Pacific family that are affected directly by Australia’s destructive actions,” he said.

Milañ Loeak said the fossil fuel industry needed to change course to save their islands.

“None of us who have felt the impacts of climate change should continue to suffer through them just to fulfill others’ interests. We don’t deserve to lose our Islands and we will do what we must to ensure we won’t,” Milañ concluded.  



[1] Photos from the blockade available here.

[2] More on the Pacific Climate Warriors

[3] The Newcastle Coal Port is the largest in the world with a shipping capacity of 211 million tonnes per annum (mtpa). In 2013 the Port reached a record 150.5 million tonnes in coal exports, a 12.5% increase on 2012. There are current plans to increase the capacity of the port by 70 million tonnes.

[4] Australia is the world’s second largest coal exporter. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has rolled back climate protections in Australia, as well as vocally supported the expansion of additional coal mining. At the opening of a new coal mine on Monday, Abbott said “Coal is good for humanity,” a line markedly out of step with other world leaders, scientists, health professionals, and nearly everyone concerned with human well-being. Coal is a leading cause of climate change, along with numerous other environmental and health impacts.

[5] The government’s active support for the coal industry has helped fuel the fossil fuel divestment campaign in Australia, which has chalked up an impressive number of wins over the last year. Most recently, Australian National University and Anglican Church in Australia have committed to divestment. In Europe, Glasgow became the first university to divest earlier this month with recent wins including the Swedish city of Örebro announcing its commitment to pull its funds out of fossil fuels. In the US, last month the The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which controls about $860m in assets, announced its commitment to divest. A full list of divestment commitments can be found here