Efforts of Pacific climate warriors boosted by global movement

On Monday, world leaders gathered in New York for the United Nations Climate Change Summit 2019, with host U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hoping they will rise up to the occasion.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi joined leaders from Pacific island nations and around the world. The discussions at the summit revolved around the theme “Climate Action Summit 2019: A Race We Can Win. A Race We Must Win” and strived to challenge everyone to up their game in terms of energy transition, climate finance and carbon pricing, industry transition, nature-based solutions, cities and local action, and resilience.

But it was the participation of 16 young people at the climate summit who immediately drew the attention of world leaders. They included Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and together they filed a complaint with the United Nations accusing France, Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey of breaching the 2015 Paris Agreement by not meeting their emissions targets.

Ms Thunberg, whom commentators say showed maturity beyond her years, came out swinging to condemn the leaders.

“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said in her three minute speech

“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

(See page 12 for the full speech by Greta Thunberg)

Looking at the online videos of Ms Thunberg’s fiery presentation on Monday through the lens of a Pacific Islander, I found myself taking comfort in this young girl’s cries for mother earth. She is just as worried as we are for the future and what it entails for our children and the next generation of islanders.

Despite the best efforts of our climate warriors in PM Tuilaepa, Fiji’s Frank Bainimarama and Marshall Islands’ Hilda Heine – to name a few – our voice on the global stage has become a drop in the ocean. But the intervention by Ms Thunberg and millions of children and youth, who took to the streets in 150 countries last Friday to protest and call for climate action, give our climate warriors renewed impetus and legitimacy to get on with the job. 

Unsurprisingly, the Pacific’s largest greenhouse gas emitter Australia, did not attend Monday’s United Nations Climate Change Summit 2019 in New York. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison opted to go to Chicago and sent his Foreign Minister Marise Payne in his place.

Despite global action on climate change and growing consensus among nations on the back of last Friday’s global protests in 150 countries, Australian media reports point to Canberra pushing to expand Australian coal exports to Asian markets, in the face of pleas by Pacific island nations to acknowledge the link between the burning of coal and the damage it does to the climate.

Hey who are we? We are often described as dots in the ocean, insignificant, and of no value to our bigger neighbours and their well developed economies. We are often seen to be in the way of their national agenda. 

But we do not want your big mansions, your fuel guzzling cars or your jet setting lifestyles. Our people are content working our plantations to grow vegetables, going fishing to get protein, and a roof over our heads to protect us and our families from rain and wind. Our needs are pretty basic and one that has kept us and our forefathers happy and content for thousands of years.

However, when our plantations continue to be at the mercy of increasing extreme weather conditions and our traditional livelihood threatened by rising sea-levels brought on by climate change, we must stand up and make one last stand for our future and that of our children and their children.

Ms Thunberg did a postmortem on the performance of world leaders when it came to tackling climate change: “You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you.”

Have a lovely Wednesday Samoa and God bless.

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