Climate change is a human rights issue

Pelenise Alofa, climate advocate and coordinator of KiriCAN – Kiribati Climate Action Network - has addressed the 28th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

In her address delivered today in the United Nations in Geneva Ms Alofa  called on the Human Rights Council to speak out: “We cannot continue to discuss this issue at the UNFCCC or the UN General Assembly alone. It is paramount that this Council provide a strong voice to reach the negotiations at the UNFCCC.”

“We have a right to survive and to live,” she insisted. “The lack of political power is our greatest challenge right now. When our leaders chose to ignore the reality of Climate Change, I say this is corruption at the highest level - it is criminal.”

“From the Pacific perspective I would like us to look at the following: if we are to be successful in addressing our Human Rights, then we need to address Climate Change using the rights-based approach which is people-centred,” she said.

“Invest in saving the Pacific, because if you do – you are saving yourself, and the world.”  

“Mr President, we have three recommendations to the Human Rights Council this morning. First, to recognise the adverse effects of climate change on the enjoyment of human rights; (2) to establish the position of a special rapporteur on human rights and climate change at the UN office; (3) to launch a work program to ensure that human rights are integrated into all aspects of climate actions,” Ms Alofa affirmed.

“Climate Change is a global injustice and one of the greatest human rights challenges of our time. Climate Change also touches every aspect of our lives.”

“In the words of a I-Kiribati fisherman: 'What is the point of providing water, food, assistance if all of us here would lose lands, homes and our lives from the rising seas.' And the seas are rising frantically and dangerously in the atoll islands of the Pacific.”  

Video  of UN Geneva:

Ms Alofa's civil society work and representation at the UN in Geneva is in partnership with Edmund Rice International, and Franciscans International and in Australia with the Pacific Calling Partnership an initiative the Edmund Rice Centre, Sydney.

Interview opportunity Sydney: Ms Penelise Alofa will be visiting Sydney from 10th to 14th March 2015 and available for media interviews regarding her message delivered in Geneva to the UN Human Rights Council or in regard to the current impacts of climate change on Kiribati & other low-lying island nations of the Pacific.

For comment or to arrange interview time with Ms Alofa contact: Jill Finnane: 0409-640-366 [email protected] or Phil Glendenning: 0419-013-758

Ms Pelenise Alofa, coordinator, Kiribati Climate Action Network - 'KiriCAN'

About Pelenise Alofa (aka: Maike Pilitati) 

  • She is Executive Director for the Kiribati Climate Action Network (KiriCAN), a network of twenty organizations active on climate change issues.  She hails from Banaba island in Kiribati. Her strengths lie in project development, program facilitation, capacity building and strategic management.  She has built a strong working relationship with the government on climate change programs on in Kiribati.   She has also successfully established the Banaban Network in Fiji for the Banabans, an indigenous people who were resettled in Fiji, and is working diligently to help create the Pacific node for the Climate Action Network. Pelenise is a teacher by profession and is member of the Advisory Committee and Scholarship Board for the Ministry of Education in Kiribati.  Her involvement in education has led to her working with youth and students on climate change programs.
  • She is an educationist and is committed to the development of people and communities. Her objective in life is to fully utilize her skills, talents and abilities to alleviate poverty and improve quality of life for the people of Kiribati and the Pacific and to be a more resourceful and responsible global citizen.
  • KiriCAN has membership in the CAN International and the Pacific Calling Partnership based in Sydney.  In 2012, Pelenise successfully established partnership between KiriCAN and Live & Learn Environmental Education International, an organization currently doing adaptation projects in Kiribati. She sits on the board for the Live & Learn International. Pelenise is a passionate advocator for Climate Change locally and internationally on behalf of Kiribati and the Pacific.  She continues to advocate for the respect and responsibility of the developed countries to small island states which are being disadvantaged because of adverse effects of Climate Change.
  • She is currently employed by the University of the South Pacific (USP), Pacific Centre of Sustainable Development (PACE-SD) as In-Country Coordinator for the European Union/Global Climate Change Alliance project (EU/GCCA). The project aims to develop and strengthen the Pacific ACP countries’ capacity to adapt to the impacts of climate change through capacity building, research and community engagement.  
  • In 2008 and 2009, Pelenise chaired the Churches Education Directors’ Association in Kiribati (CEDAK). The CEDAK provides and operates thirteen church high schools in Kiribati and is one of the chief providers of education in the country.
  • Pelenise was also a former member of both the Education Advisory Committee and the Kiribati Scholarship Board for the Ministry of Education.  And lastly, she was the founder of the Banaban Elders & Landowners Association (BELA) based in Suva, Fiji and loves to travel between her two homes: Kiribati and Fiji.

Links: video and images

  • KiriCAN
  • Address to UN Human Rights Council in Geneva 5th March 2015
  • A small island takes on the stakes in Bonn
  • Photo with rainwater tank

About KiriCAN

  • For the last three years, we have been busy doing awareness-raising, adaptation, negotiation and conference participation. We believe that CC is cross-cutting and does not have boundaries, so we work together with governments and opposition leaders. I do most of the international campaigns and negotiations while my colleagues do the national ones. Our ground team is wonderful and enthusiastic. Every month we have an international media team visiting Kiribati to report our stories. All media is welcome because we believe that our voices should be heard far and wide and must reach the whole world. We also learned that not all media is to be trusted!
  • KiriCAN has had the privilege to attend LDC, CommonWealth, Pacific Forum and regional meetings speaking on behalf of the Pacific people on CC issues and has attended three UN Climate Talks (COPs). Furthermore, KiriCAN has also had the privilege to participate international campaigns. The first international campaign was done in Australia and NZ (our closest neighbours) and the message was “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We also went on a tour of Europe: Belgium, Spain and Austria and spent a short time in the US.
  • One of the highlights of the KiriCAN activities in Kiribati was our involvement with the Tarawa Climate Change Conference held November 2010 organised by the government. KiriCAN organized a two days workshop prior to the conference and organized a rally/march in support of the Kiribati government during the conference. More than 1000 people from NGOs and Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) turned up to support this rally. This was funded by WWF, and PIANGO (Pacific Islands Association of NGOs).
  • Today, the KiriCAN Youth participating doing the Water Harvesting Awareness (Adaptation) programs around Tarawa being funded by NZAid and we continue to visit the outer islands to conduct CC Awareness. It’s been great and satisfying working with grassroots and seeing the joy when you show that you care for their wellbeing and development. I could never trade this occupation for something else.
  • offer an informed yet visionary perspective on what the Council could bring to the promotion and protection of human rights
  • highlight the concerns of actual and potential victims of human rights violations in a constructive manner
  • rise above specific country situations or particular issues and focus on a vision for the Council.


  • As President of Kiribati Climate Action Network (KiriCAN), Pelenise, has become an experienced international advocate for the human rights of Australia’s island neighbours. The Kiribati Climate Action Network (KiriCAN), is comprised of many youth and women’s groups in Kiribati, was the first CC NGO established in Kiribati. KiriCAN was originally organized by the Pacific Calling Partnership based in Sydney, and they continue to be working partners today.
  • Last year, Pelenise joined with Kiribati President Anote Tong on a Greenpeace organised expedition to the Arctic Circle, where they were able to see firsthand the glacier melts that are threatening their islands thousands of miles away. 
  • “We know there is a direct impact of what is happening in the Arctic to our country in Kiribati,” Alofa said. “ We have seen the effects of coastal erosion. We’re losing our land, and our land is very important to us. We’ve seen so many differences in weather patterns. It’s raining at the wrong time, and floods, and heat at the wrong time, more intensive at this time.”
  • When asked in an interview with SPARE CHANGE NEWS about how the United Nations and Security Counsel can help, Alofa exclaimed, “The UN should stop negotiating and start taking action. We’ve been waiting too long – 20 years!” She explained that small-scale adaptation projects have been implemented by non-profits, but there has been no proper “immediate action” taken to save Kiribati.

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