Climate change loss and grief in the Pacific

Marshall Island

The way Pacific Island communities on the frontline of climate change are experiencing and working through loss and grief will be documented in a project set to start in 2020.

University of Queensland (UQ) researchers will work with people in the Cook Islands, Marshall Islands and Vanuatu to document the impact of climate change on their lives and communities.

Pacific Island communities were already experiencing loss and grief due to climate change, said Dr Karen McNamara of UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

“Listening deeply to their stories is a critical first step in building our understanding of these factors, which are often non-economic losses to life, health, culture, Indigenous knowledge and sense of place.

“If we know more, we can better plan for these losses and develop approaches to work through them by supporting healing and hope, and lessen their impact on people’s lives.”

Shining a spotlight on the plight of Pacific nations’ peoples will be a wake-up call for the rest of the world, Dr McNamara said.

“We are often in denial about what we’re already losing from the impacts of climate change, whether it be the loss of species and places, changing seasons or the latest temperature record yet again being broken.

“We’re also in denial about what we will lose in the future, loss that we cannot even get our heads around, a huge ecological and social crisis.”

The study, to start next year will involve extensive and in-depth fieldwork including interviews and workshops in each of the three countries with more than 200 participants from local communities and governments.

“This research will better equip all of us to understand how to move from that denial, by exploring individual and collective mourning and grieving in the Pacific Islands,” Dr McNamara said.

Dr McNamara’s team will partner with local grassroots organisations who make up the project’s steering committee, including the Cook Islands National Council of Women, Jo-Jikum in the Marshall Islands and Further Arts in Vanuatu.

Dr McNamara hopes the research can have a positive impact on those living across the Pacific.

“Various creative activities at the workshops will encourage participants to explore how grief might be worked through, individually and collectively.”

The project has a collaborative partnership with international leaders in loss and damage at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, University of Lund and Memorial University of Newfoundla

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