Ahead of the Rugby World Cup in Japan, a report from Christian Aid highlights what they term the “climate injustice” endured by Pacific island participants.
Fiji, Samoa and Tonga face an uncertain future in a warmer world, with rising seas and increased storms.
But rich rugby nations like Japan and Australia are blocking aggressive climate action, the study says.
Christian Aid says this mirrors the exploitation of the Pacific islands for their best rugby players.
The charity says that the Pacific nations are among the countries that have done the least to cause the climate crisis.
Carbon emissions per person in Samoa are just 0.7 tonnes every year but the average Australian produces 24 times more, at 16.5 tonnes.
According to figures produced by the Climate Action Tracker, which monitors the climate plans of different countries, the three Pacific island nations emit less than 1.8 million tonnes from fossil fuel use between them.
For a country like New Zealand the same figure runs to nearly 37 million tonnes.
But the islands are now experiencing some of the worst impacts of a changing climate with rising sea levels threatening land and people.
The region is likely to see more Category Three and Category Five storms in the coming decades.
There are concerns that the movement of people connected to climate change could leave these countries unable to field competitive rugby teams.
“As a Pacific island rugby player, tackling the climate crisis is close to my heart,” said former Samoan international flanker Jonny Fa’amatuainu, who played for Bath as well as clubs in Wales and Japan.
“My grandparents and other families who lived in a village on the coast in Samoa moved inland two years ago because of climate change.”
“The Pacific islands are the soul of our sport, and we have produced some of the most dynamic and exciting players on the planet. Yet as this report underlines, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji are all facing increased risks from rising sea levels and extreme weather.”
Christian Aid says that the way that Pacific islands are treated on climate change reflects the way that world rugby has treated these countries when it comes to their best rugby players.
Current stars like England’s Manu Tuilagi or Ireland’s Bundee Aki both have Samoan connections but have moved to play with richer nations.
This is a pathway littered with greats including former internationals Jonah Lomu and Lote Tuquiri, who played for New Zealand and Australia respectively.
Rugby’s governing body World Rugby had even developed plans for a new global championship which would have excluded teams from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. In the face of serious opposition the plans were ultimately dropped.
The report says that the disdain with which larger countries hold the Pacific islands is also shown when it comes to climate change.
At a regional political gathering in August this year, several of the participating countries had pushed Australia to go further on limiting coal to prevent dangerous climate change.
However, the Australian deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, brusquely dismissed the concerns.
“I also get a little bit annoyed when we have people in those sorts of countries pointing the finger at Australia and say we should be shutting down all our resources sector so that, you know, they will continue to survive,” he said.
“They’ll continue to survive because many of their workers come here and pick our fruit.”
The World Cup kicks off a couple of days before the UN secretary general António Guterres convenes a special summit in New York to see if countries will commit to greater action on climate change.
Japan and Australia won’t be allowed to speak at the meeting, according to news reports, as their continued support for coal clashes with Mr Guterres view that no new coal fired power plants should be built.
“The main culprits for causing the climate crisis are European nations as well as major coal burners like Australia, the USA and Japan,” said report author Dr Katherine Kramer.
“Not only have they caused the current dire situation, but they are dragging their feet on making the needed transition to a zero-carbon economy.”
Former Samoan international Jonny Fa’amatuainu urged players who had connections to the island nations to draw attention to the issue of climate change during the World Cup.
“Pacific islanders representing other countries at the Rugby World Cup, I urge you to use that platform to help with the climate challenge,” he said.
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