My experience of being a young Pacific Islander at COP25

12 December 2019

Today the voices of youth activists from around the world are among the strongest forces calling for urgent climate action and climate justice in the Pacific. Maryann Puia, a youth climate activist from the Solomon Islands, shares her experiences and learnings from COP25.

Pacific youth activist Maryann Puia (second from right) at a Pacific Islanders forum at COP25

I am Maryann Puia from the Solomon Islands, Pacific Island Represent activist, and the Awareness officer for Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change. This is my first COP and I am overwhelmed by the excitement of being here to represent other youth and the Pacific. 

As a young Pacific Islander at COP25, it is very important that I listen to how other Pacific island nations are dealing with climate change. But, more importantly, I am here to speak up, to voice my concerns and make sure they are heard. I am grateful to see that our Pacific leaders are now listening to young people like me and actually paying attention.

While we were here at COP25, we youth activists met with distinguished Pacific leaders including former Prime Minister of Tuvalu RT Hon. Enele S. Sopoaga, former President of Kiribati H. E Anote Tong, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights H.E. Michelle Bachelet. 

I felt deeply encouraged that these prominent climate leaders took the time to listen to Pacific youth activists like me. Among my suggestions, We know these international conferences require the sudden influx of people to one place, resulting in the consumption of electricity, water and the emissions associated with the additional use of transportation and airplane travel.  So I asked these leaders to consider thinking about digitizing climate change summits and hosting other regional or localised conferences in future. 

At a panel discussion, we were asked what meaningful engagement meant to us. I said that any meaningful engagement should include youth inputs, women’s inputs and those from minority groups within each community. But more importantly, genuine engagement should result in our inputs being reflected in policy and decision-making, and not just set aside. 

Pacific Island

We asked Pacific Islanders what outcomes they wanted to see out of COP25.

Posted by Pacific Island Represent on Wednesday, December 4, 2019

 

Through talking with other youth activists, I learnt about the different ways young people in the Pacific region are standing up to address the impacts of climate change, and the victories they had achieved. I also learnt about their strength and resilience as activists at the forefront of the climate crisis.

COP25 was a very important opportunity for us because it provided a platform for young people to share our experiences in the adverse impacts of climate change within our own communities, and to discuss with our leaders ways to collaborate and address the climate crisis. 

Today the voices of youth activists from around the world are among the strongest forces calling for urgent climate action and climate justice in the Pacific. I am proud and thrilled to see here at COP25 youth organizations advocating at the local, regional and global level for climate justice through highlighting the links between climate change and the impacts on Pacific islanders’ human rights. 

These discussions bring to light the  impacts climate change is having on our culture and traditions, its links to our food security, to water and to the ocean. For young people in the Pacific, Climate justice is a crucial aspect of these discussions  because we are the ones most affected by the climate crisis and the most vulnerable as the climate emergency gets worse. 

We have  first-hand experience of extreme and severe weather events such as cyclones, flash floods and tsunamis which have inflicted massive damage on our infrastructure and environment as well as adversely impacting our health and safety and the overall wellbeing of our communities. 

At a panel discussion I attended, the former Prime Minister of Tuvalu said that if no actions are taken now to address the climate crisis, in 30 years’ time Tuvalu will be underwater. It’s devastating because we are not only at risk of losing our lands, we could lose our cultures, our traditions and our identity that is embedded in our lands. 

I am astounded at how slow big countries are in negotiating to come up with a plan to address this climate crisis, and saddened that some countries are pushing for human rights concerns to be excluded from their agreements. 

The time for kind words and politely asking for action is over. 

We are in a climate emergency and we need to take the fight to the big polluting countries and corporations if governments continue to refuse to listen. That’s why we must scale up the fight.  We need action now. Our future, our very lives are in danger. We did not ask for this climate emergency, nor did we cause it. 

So I call on all Pacific islanders, young and old to step up, unite and fight this climate crisis, not just for ourselves, but for the future of your children, and their children’s children.

Maryann Puia is a youth climate activist from the Solomon Islands, Pacific Island Representative  and the Awareness officer for Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change