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Pacific priorities for COP26: make real changes, make money flow

With increasing adverse weather events and the latest science confirming unequivocally what they have known for years, young Pacific climate activists are demanding action.

Posted on 01/11/2021
By Lice Movono

They want the same thing they have been asking for in the years since the Paris Agreement was made at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) six years ago.

However, with increasing adverse weather events and the latest science confirming unequivocally what they have known for years—that human activity in the larger economies has affected their way of life, possibly irreversibly—young Pacific climate activists are demanding action.

Lavetanalagi Seru is a young climate justice activist based in Suva, Fiji and, as the founder of the Alliance for Future Generations which he established several years ago, he wants world governments to effectively engage youth in the COP26 negotiations in Glasgow.

A boy stares into the devastation caused by Super Storm Yasa in Fiji in January 2020. Photo credit: Justin Naisua

Along with fellow climate activists across the Pacific, Mr Seru wants COP26 to chart better climate financing pathways that ensure the communities at the very front line of climate change benefit from more accessible funding.

‘The burden right now is on Pacific Islanders.’

‘We know, we have seen from science, the increasing threat posed by climate change and humanity’s role in causing it, we’ve seen the IPCC latest assessment report. In order for our communities to adapt to some of the worst climate impacts in our region, we actually need technical and financial support, because we do not have the kind of capacity to continuously be rebuilding after every cyclone,’ he said.

‘Right now, the burden is on taxpayers. The burden is on individuals themselves who have had to source their recovery funding from pensioner’s funds. The burden right now is on Pacific Islanders.’

He says there is a gap around climate finance that needs to be closed, and that world leaders at COP26 must ensure developed countries deliver the promised 100 billion dollars per year, a goal that was supposed to be reached in 2020.  

Anything less, Mr Seru insists, will mean Pacific communities will not be able to mitigate or effectively adapt to the changes global warming imposes on them. He said Pacific people face losing ancestral lands, and asks that leaders remember the displacement and relocation of whole communities in the Oceania region.

Storm surges have become increasingly frequent in the Pacific and are posing a serious threat to islanders’ way of life. Photo credit: Justin Naisua

Another key message is better operationalisation of agreements on loss and damage so ‘it is not only just about putting up a website […] but that it is also about financial resources and technical support because we can’t deny the fact that loss and damage is already at our doorstep.’

These are the key messages he is taking to COP26, which he is attending alongside other members of the Pacific Climate Action Network (PICAN).

Another activist attending COP26 as part of the PICAN delegation is Willy Missack, from the Vanuatu Climate Action Network.

Mr Missack is one of a handful of climate activists attending from Vanuatu who may be among his country’s only representatives at COP26 because his government has decided not to send a delegation.

This will be his fourth COP, but unlike previous times when he attended as part of his government’s negotiation team, he will be advocating instead as a civil society representative.

‘Ms Talemaimaleya hopes to build the capacity of other young Fijians to become agents of change’

‘This is the COP where we need to see actual achievement. We have to be real, we have to make stronger calls to action because this one is a benchmark, where there are specific things we must see.’

One of the ways Mr Missack hopes COP heads will choose to address climate change is by acknowledging traditional knowledge when it designs support programmes for climate-adaptive infrastructure in the Pacific.

While he acknowledges the need to develop new ideas and harness modern technology, he recommends that development policies also consider indigenous approaches to mitigating climate change including, for example, through the conservation and restoration of forests, mangroves and coral reefs.

‘When these bodies of traditional knowledge are supported and when the perspective of indigenous people are taken into account, to some extent, it holds more value to the communities.’

Unlike Mr Missack and Mr Seru, Adi Davila Talemaimaleya is attending a COP for the very first time as the Pacific representative of the Sustainable Oceans Alliance, an organisation that trains young leaders to advocate for ocean conservation. 

A recent graduate of the University of the South Pacific’s Postgraduate Diploma in Climate Change, Ms Talemaimaleya hopes to build the capacity of other young Fijians to become agents of change. She hopes that one day the health of the world’s oceans will be a priority for the international community. 

As a Pacific youth representative at COP26, she’s acutely aware of the lack of young Pacific Islanders who will be attending.

‘There’s not a lot of Pacific youth represented at this COP, so it’s an honour and a privilege to attend and engage. It won’t only be in the [civil society] space that I’ll be looking to engage [….] I hope to engage with high level [government] delegates.’

Ms Talemaimaleya has volunteered to moderate and facilitate panel discussions and speaking events that COP negotiators may be present at so she can appeal for more bold action.

‘The main thing that I will tell people is how important urgent and bold climate action is for our Pacific Island countries because, in the Pacific, our islands are already sinking’, she said.

‘It’s already here and we can already see it with our own eyes. In Fiji, it’s about more intense frequent tropical cyclones. In other places, its sea level rises and frequent storm surges. We have some people who still don’t believe that climate change is real.’

‘I think being in that space and that platform to be able to share our realities and to share our experiences, that’s something that is needed for people to really believe what is happening here.’

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference is taking place in Glasgow, Scotland until 12 November 2021.

Reporting by Lice Movono and photography by Justin Naisua.