Speech: PIF SG Henry Puna at the 2023 Pacific Resilience Meeting Youth Forum

By Henry Puna 07 October 2023, 12:00PM

Before I begin, I would like to share these words from a powerful young Pacific woman who is no stranger to you – her name is Brianna Fruean.

I hope that as I repeat her words, you will know their truth – she says, “Youth may not hold all the power or money in the world, but we have something more valuable in my opinion – and that is passion.”

She is a hundred percent correct.

You are leading the way. Not tomorrow, but today. So let’s mark this moment not with silence, but with celebration. Because the passion and energy you bring is already showing the world what can be done to reverse the climate crisis.

Youth let’s take a moment to celebrate YOU.

With passion in mind, with Pacific youth in mind, and with this very University and its roll call of Pacific leaders across our region in mind, let’s all stand up and and give a world-changing round of applause and cheers honouring and celebrating the passion, the mana, and the leadership of our Pacific youth.

I am honoured to join you all this morning to bear witness to the passion, to hear your voices, and your ideas, at this momentous occasion of the 2023

Pacific Resilience Meeting Youth Forum. I wanted us to begin on that positive note given the grave climate challenges that bring us all here today.

But as Brianna stated, and as you know, our solutions lie in our people, and their passion for the issues that matter.

So let this be a day of celebration, as we come together to recognize the energy, creativity, and potential you all bring – our youth leaders of the Pacific, a driving force behind our region’s progress and prosperity.

Two years ago, at the 2021 Youth Forum, I shared my firm belief that it is you, our young people, who will act as a ‘lightning rod for change in our region.

That belief stands stronger than ever, especially through these times facing our Blue continent, and our Blue Planet.

The theme for the 2023 Pacific Resilience Meeting, “Our People, Our Strength: Securing Our Pacific Future,” underscores the pivotal role that youth leadership plays in shaping that future. Your contributions bring a sense of realism, urgency, and fresh perspectives to our policy discussions.

You continually remind us that we are not passive victims of climate change but active agents for change, innovators, and champions of resilience.

Our shared sense of community and solidarity equips us to tackle the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Drawing from our rich cultural heritage and traditional knowledge, we have adapted to a changing environment for generations. Today, we complement this wisdom with cutting-edge science and technology to monitor, model, and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Your voices hold significant weight in the decisions we make and the policies we formulate because it is your future, your livelihoods, and the well-being and security of future generations that are at stake.

Many of you here today may be aware of the a  crucial regional vision for the future of the Pacific and the pivotal role you, the youth, play in this journey.

Our 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent was shaped across the region, in consultations involving Pacific youth, and even in rooms such as this one, where our Forum team met with some of your alumni who have since graduated and returned home to serve their nations.

So rest assured, this strategy has your ownership written through it. It is our North Star to the future our People want.

It is a roadmap towards a sustainable, resilient, and prosperous Pacific region.

It is not just words on paper.

It is a vision which continues to require the active involvement of our young leaders, who will carry the torch forward.

The 2050 Strategy reflects our collective determination to address pressing challenges, including climate change, economic development, and social well-being.

It embodies our commitment to sustainable development, inclusivity, and leaving no one behind. Yet, having a vision is not enough; we need a well-defined plan to transform it into reality.

I am pleased that you have also contributed to the development of a comprehensive implementation plan for the 2050 Strategy. This plan outlines concrete steps, timelines, and the resources required to achieve our ambitious goals. I urge you to stay engaged and be part of its execution.

I would also like to acknowledge the young individuals in the field across the Pacific region who are taking action on the ground. Today, I want to highlight a unique project in Cogea village in Bua, a province in the Northern region of Fiji. I am informed that this is one of the first community relocation projects undertaken in the Pacific in response to climate impacts.

I extend my congratulations to the members of the Bua Urban Youths for their proactive intervention in addressing this challenge head-on. Your passion is recognised. We hear you. We see your efforts. Across the villages, the capitals. The cities, The world. We cannot afford to be bystanders as our communities are impacted by climate change.

Resilience is no longer a mere aspiration; it is now a necessity for our region. We are committed to supporting and amplifying your voices through the 2050 Youth Video Competition. We believe in the power of storytelling to inspire change, and three winners will have the opportunity to attend this year’s Forum Leaders Meeting in the Cook Islands in November.

Your elected leaders, like you, know the urgency of addressing the climate crisis. You are all front of mind and physically with your leaders at the forefront of this battle, which is why my team have established the Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General’s Young Climate Leaders Alliance (PYCLA).

This alliance empowers young climate activists to have their voices heard, access resources, and collaborate with regional leaders to accelerate climate action. It is an alliance I, as Secretary General, am proud to champion.

We recognize your actions at the regional level, but we also want your voices to be heard on the global stage. I am pleased to announce that we are supporting a youth representative from the Forum Islands countries to participate in negotiations at the 28th Conference of Parties in Dubai in late November.

Your creativity has the power to ignite the imagination of millions and drive momentum for our shared goals. And your passion, as always – is going to light up the rooms of the COP28 and ignite the negotiations and corridors for the 1.5, net zero future this planet needs.

So please. Hold strong. Never forget who you are. More than half the population of our entire region, right now, is under 24 years of age.

You literally are the leading constituency for today, shaping tomorrow, and beyond.

Your energy, passion, and fresh perspectives are indispensable as we work towards the vision of the 2050 Strategy. The Pacific Islands Forum is committed to supporting and nurturing this potential, and we invite all young Pacific Islanders to join us on this journey.

Together, we can build a Pacific that is sustainable, resilient, and prosperous for generations to come.

Vinaka vakalevu, Meitaki Maata, and thank you. I wish you success in your deliberations today and in your aspirations for a resilient Pacific region!

By Henry Puna 07 October 2023, 12:00PM
Samoa Observer

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