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Rainbow Warrior continues Greenpeace's quest for climate justice

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The Rainbow Warrior III arrived in Vanuatu in July (Screenshot via YouTube)

The latest Greenpeace vessel bearing the Rainbow Warrior name has arrived in Vanuatu to aid in bringing climate change to the International Court of Justice. David Ritter reports.

ALMOST 38 years to the day after two French secret agents blew up the original Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour, killing photographer Fernando Pereira, the third ship to carry the name sailed into the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on a tide of solidarity, hope and justice.

This latest journey continues Greenpeace’s long history of working alongside local communities to protect the oceans, lands and communities of the Pacific.

Before the atrocity in Auckland harbour in 1985, the Rainbow Warrior had been on a mission to attempt to prevent French atomic testing in the region. The ship had just helped the people of Rongelap in the Marshall Islands to, at their request, evacuate from their island which had been contaminated by radioactive fallout from nuclear blasts.

I was a teenager when the Rainbow Warrior was bombed and can remember the exact moment, listening to a transistor radio in my bedroom, when I heard the appalling news. It was an instant that was very much in my mind recently when I had the honour of representing Greenpeace as the Rainbow Warrior returned to Vanuatu to reconnect with our Pacific family for the first time in eight years.

On this mission, the Rainbow Warrior is sailing to the great ocean states of the region to lend full support to the groundbreaking Pasifika-led legal campaign to take climate change to the world’s highest court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In one of the great stories of our time, the genesis of the initiative began among a classroom of students in Vanuatu in March 2019.

Today, the campaign continues to be spearheaded by the Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change but has blossomed into a major global gambit, with the government of Vanuatu leading a coalition of 132 nations in calling on the ICJ to provide an advisory opinion on the climate obligations of states under international law. It is a truly visionary enterprise with the potential to contribute to transforming law, all over the world, by providing a powerful new precedent requiring the protection of people from climate damage.

The legal and communications team onboard the Rainbow Warrior will be documenting the human rights stories of climate impacts in the Pacific to include as part of the ICJ submission process, and taking the opportunity to amplify and scaffold the cultural traditions and advocacy positions of local Pasifika communities, activists and leaders. The ship’s mission includes Fiji and Tuvalu, as well as Vanuatu.

On the morning when the Rainbow Warrior arrived into harbour in Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, Honourable Chief Timothy, a community elder, called out an extended greeting: “Welcome home, Greenpeace, welcome home, you've been gone for so long. Our people have lots to tell you!”

The ceremonial welcome that followed was a time of deep exchange and humble listening. We witnessed the strength of culture, community and faith; the determination of leadership and advocacy; and the creativity and solidarity being manifested in the face of the gathering storm.

Using the Rainbow Warrior as a convening space, we welcomed collaboration with our colleagues at Action Aid and numerous local Vanuatu civil society organisations including representatives of the Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change who started it all, as well as with traditional and parliamentary leaders. And we heard the stories of impacts; of how climate damage is driving storms and draughts, wiping out local crops and washing ancestral graveyards into the rising seas.

And Greenpeace is calling on the Australian Government to listen, too. Under the Morrison Government, Australia’s relationship with the Pacific was characterised by callous disregard and inaction. The ICJ process creates an opportunity for Prime Minister Albanese’s team to demonstrate discontinuity by showing true friendship to the Pacific, not only as a moral imperative and to repair our reputation in the region, but also to mitigate exposure to geopolitical risks.

After the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior, then-Prime Minister Bob Hawke condemned what he described as a “cold-blooded, premeditated act of international terrorism” and supported demands “to have the perpetrators identified and brought to justice”.

It’s time once again for Australia to demand international justice. In the name of the Rainbow Warrior and the shared bonds of kinship among Pacific peoples and nations, we are calling on Foreign Minister Penny Wong and the Albanese Government to make the strongest possible submission to the ICJ, advocating for an advisory opinion compelling greater action on climate change.

As the devastating spate of extreme weather around the world has shown us, climate change is well and truly upon us all. Despite contributing the least to the problem, Pacific nations are among the most vulnerable on the planet.

Now, through leadership in global governance, Pacific Island nations are making an outsized contribution to delivering a solution that could change the destiny of those most vulnerable and all future generations the world over. We should be inspired by that leadership and answer the call with urgency, ambition and action.

David Ritter is the chief executive officer of Greenpeace Australia Pacific. You can follow David on Twitter @David_Ritter.

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