Linda Murnane | USA


I wish to express my sincere appreciation to His Holiness, Pope Francis, and along with everyone attending the Workshop, I wish him a full and speedy recovery. I also wish to express my appreciation to the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences, his Eminence Cardinal Turkson, the President of the Pan-American Judges for Social Justice, and to all of the esteemed speakers who have contributed to this important Workshop.

My role today is to contribute to the discussion on the topics so effectively presented by Professor Justin Farrell and by Dr. Paul Kirshen, addressing climate justice through scientist and community collaboration and the large-scale analysis of colonization and climate change. My comments reflect my personal views and do not represent the official view of the United States government or the Republic of the Marshall Islands where I currently serve as an Associate Justice on the High Court.

With Professor Farrell’s scientific examination of land dispossession and forced migration in the United States and Dr. Kirshen’s expert analysis of seasonal rainfall forecasts in Burkina Faso, and Boston, USA, as a backdrop, I would like to share the poignant and extremely precarious situation of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a former district of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) which the United States administered on behalf of the United Nations from 1947 until 1978.[1]

On November 2, 2022, I had the honor to be sworn in as an Associate Justice of the High Court of this now-independent nation. It is located near the Equator in the Pacific Ocean just west of the International Dateline. In 2018, the World Bank Census calculated the population of this nation at 58,413.[2] The nation is comprised of five islands and 29 coral atolls, comprising more than 1,100 individual islands, islets, and atolls.

European exploration of the Marshall Islands began in 1520, with Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer in the service of Spain.[3] Spain “claimed” the islands in 1592, and European powers recognized Spanish sovereignty over the Indigenous population in 1874.[4] Spain sold some of the Islands to the German empire in 1885.[5]

In World War I, the Empire of Japan occupied the Marshall Islands.[6] During World War II, the Marshall Islands were placed under United States administration as a strategic Trust Territory.[7] The U.S. control of the Marshall Islands came in 1944 during the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign. The U.S. used the Bikini Atoll and the Enewetak Atoll, and its inhabitants, primarily Indigenous people, for nuclear testing beginning in 1946 and continued to devastate the land and its people through 1958.[8]

In 1979, the RMI was “restored” to independence.[9] Core to the Constitution of the RMI is the right of land ownership. The history of occupation and abuse of the people, the land and the sea surrounding it fashion the tone of their Constitution, which states:

“This society has survived and has withstood the test of time, the impact
of other cultures, the devastation of war and the high price paid for the
purposes of international peace and security. All we have and are today as a
people we have received as a sacred heritage which we pledge ourselves to
safeguard and maintain, valuing nothing more dearly than our rightful home
on the islands within the traditional boundaries of this archipelago”.[10]

This backdrop leads me to the current day in the context of colonization, decolonization and neo-colonialism in today’s headlines.

On November 17, 2022, the Republic of the Marshall Islands’ delegation to the global climate summit known as COP 27 held in Egypt reported “50 Years Left”. As is reported in the Marshall Islands Journal on that date:

“The Marshall Islands delegation to the global climate summit COP27 in Egypt ... released the ‘RMI Statement of Intent on Adaptation’ – which underscores the emerging climate reality that in the lifetime of today’s elementary age population, much of the Marshall Islands may become uninhabitable. Marshall Islands delegates to COP 27 are telling the world the country needs help ‘to retain somewhere that we Marshallese can call home’”. The report goes on to state that the infrastructure and land will be rendered unusable. “Groundwater forced upwards by rising sea levels will flood the two main urban centers of Majuro and Ebeye, home to 70 percent of our population, to such an extent that buildings, infrastructure and land will be rendered unusable”.

The article goes on to state: “The challenge of adapting to this is monumental. Indeed, how does any small nation adapt to such circumstances without global assistance”.[11] It is worth noting that the minimum wage in the Republic of the Marshall Islands is around $3 an hour.

In Laudato Si’, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, issued his urgent appeal:

“The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change”.[12]

He went on to appeal for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. He acknowledged: “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political, and for the distribution of goods”.[13]

It is my hope that the scientific and community-based collaboration and the large-scale analysis described by Professor Farrell and Dr. Kirshen will aid in that discussion.

Meanwhile, for the people of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, forced migration is a reality, with many living without reliable electricity or water, and many already relocating their families to safer locations.

As I watch the sea reclaim the land a bit more each day on my drive to the Courthouse where I work, I pray the dialogue urged in Laudato Si’ will come in time to aid these peoples who have suffered all manner of the tragedies wrought by colonization, to find a way to allow their cultures to survive.

Thank you.


  1. UN Trusteeship Council Documentation 
  2. Population Total Chart, World Bank. The World Bank chart indicates a 2021 population of 42,050. The contributing reasons for the declining population will be further described during the presentation
  3. Marshall Islands Guide
  4. See See a discussion of the involvement of Pope Leo XIII who issued a Papal Bull in 1885 recognizing Spanish sovereignty on the condition that Spain establish its presence in the islands and allow trade to flow freely. At p. 4. 
  5. Ibid.
  6. Id. at p. 5.
  7. Id. at p. 6.
  8. Id at p. 5-6.
  9. Id. at p. 11-12
  10. Preamble, Constitution of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
  11. The Marshall Islands Journal, November 17, 2022. 
  12. Laudato Si’, at para. 13.
  13. Id. at para. 14.