Inaction at COP26 will cost lives and livelihoods

  • Oct 12, 2021
  • Commonwealth

The following blog is based on a speech the author presented to the UK-Pacific High Level Dialogue on Climate Change in July 2021, which has been adapted and updated for this website.

In late March 1995, the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) hosted the first ever conference of the parties, COP1, in Berlin, Germany.

Three short months later, on a little island country - the Solomon Islands - in the Blue continent, my parents welcomed me to what I now call home. Planet Earth.

In 2009, COP15 took place in Copenhagen Denmark. By then I was 14 years old and noticed an island I held so close to my heart slowly being washed away. Kale Island was my Grandparents’ home. This personal loss prompted my journey as a climate advocate.

In 2014, COP20 was hosted across our Pacific Ocean in Peru. Yet whilst the rest of the world were participating in COP20, five of our islands had completely submerged underwater, including Kale. This is documented land loss in Solomon Islands alone.

I have been advocating for climate action for over half my life and I still do not believe we are doing enough. Instead, what I am seeing is political division.

Our islands are sinking. Our people are being displaced. Our children are going hungry. Our communities are becoming unhealthy and dying.

Today we are at risk of losing access to some of the most basic human rights. If we are unable to unite, we will lose our beautiful Pasifika way.

Pacific and world leaders, we are already losing lives to Covid-19 and other existing battles including the overarching climate crisis. We cannot solve one crisis in isolation. Similarly, we cannot lead the fight without unity.

My only request is that each Pacific Island country prioritise the climate crisis by declaring a climate emergency. This declaration will be symbolic of your national commitment to my generation.

As we then look ahead to COP26 in Glasgow this November, this is what I hope to see:

Firstly, an increased representation of Pacific climate leaders, especially youth. We have not been given the space we deserve to raise our voices. Our deep and personal losses must be heard.

Secondly, close collaboration with the UK Government and other international allies such as the Commonwealth to ensure international leaders comply to their commitments to the Paris Agreement accordingly. We have less than a decade to reduce to our target global emission.

And finally, we need increased institutional support to prepare country proposals aimed at accessing international climate finance. We need better access to finance that will provide more support in livelihood adaptation.

The international community should also recognise the need for developed nations, which are heavily responsible for accelerating climate change, to agree to enhance their efforts to slow down the cause of this crisis.

The measure by which they contribute to the loss and damage inflicted by the climate crisis must be matched by the efforts they take to help heal our broken planet and her people.

The Commonwealth is therefore well-placed to make an impact on the lives of people who come from communities like mine, by listening to our stories, taking our concerns seriously, and fighting for our future.

Of the Commonwealth’s 54 member countries, more than half (25) are small island developing nations or ‘big ocean states’. We contribute almost nothing to the climate crisis yet are at risk of losing everything.

There is no doubt the climate crisis will continue to hit the most vulnerable first. There is also no doubt that it will touch every life on this earth, whether we like it or not.

The loss of my beloved Kale Island is my line in the sand and should be a red flag for our global community. Please come and stand in our seas and feel for yourself the urgency and importance of your responsibility!

My story is an illustration of the impacts of this existential crisis on all of us, if we do not act now. The heart we give today will reflect in the heart that we ourselves and our children will carry tomorrow.