On the Front Lines of the Climate Change Fight

Imagine that the place where you grew up was at risk of being submerged under water and you had a small window of time to take action. What would you do? To what ends would you go to protect it? What actions would you take to stop this from happening?

While these scenarios may remind you of the trailer for the new Independence Day 3 movie or some Hollywood science fiction thriller –- they represent a scary reality that confronts many young people across the Pacific Island countries every day. The Pacific has become ground zero in the fight against climate change where communities are seeing the effects of a massive increase of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. This has led to rising sea levels and encroaching shorelines that threaten to impact many of these Island countries and the countless diverse communities residing within them. But it has also led to a new generation of young leaders who are fighting back, taking action, and mobilizing others around the world to join their efforts.

Last month, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a dynamic group of 33 young Pacific Island leaders in Honolulu, Hawaii. The group convened there in partnership with the East West Center and U.S. Embassy New Zealand, as part of the U.S. Department of State’s fourth Future Leaders of the Pacific Conference. Over the course of an action-packed week, these committed youth leaders shared their stories, exchanged best practices, and sought new ways to mobilize the world to further combat climate change.

Special Advisor for Global Youth Issues Andy Rabens and Social Media Coordinator for EAP Nichole Allem leading a session on Public Narrative to Future Leaders of the Pacific. [State Department Photo]

They discussed life on the frontlines of the climate fight and the fears associated with shrinking landmasses such as the Marshall Islands. They talked about the challenges of having to bear the high environmental costs of climate change while not having contributed heavily to the heightened carbon dioxide emissions that have led to dangerously high sea levels in Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia. They strategized new ways to show the world the beauty of the Islands and its diverse people so that global citizens would feel connected to the threats being faced there.

One of the young leaders, Judith Giblin, from Fiji, noted “the exchange of ideas and learning about other Pacific countries showed an underlying reality that we are all facing similar problems and need to bring others into a larger coalition to combat climate change.”

On account of its small size and large geographic scope, young leaders from across the Pacific Islands do not always get the platform that they deserve to get their voices heard. The voices of the young leaders who took part in the Future Leaders of the Pacific conference and countless others deserve our attention. And their concerns warrant collective action to urge governments to do more now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. In many cases, this is a fight for existence for them. We at the U.S. Department of State look forward to hearing more of these voices and expanding the conversation in search of solutions to tackle climate change as we look towards COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco next month.

About the Author: Andy Rabens serves as the Special Advisor for Global Youth Issues at the U.S. Department of State in the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

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Future Leaders of the Pacific convening in Honolulu, Hawaii. [State Department Photo]
Posted by Andy Rabens
November 3, 2016

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