6 December 2023, Dubai, UAE – Samoa is ensuring that when its current leaders pass the torch for its fight for survival in the face of climate change, it will be placed into the hands of those who are capable of carrying on this important work. This is being done by including youth representatives as part of the Samoan delegation to the world’s biggest climate change conference for the first time.
During Day 6 of the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP28) held in Dubai, Samoa’s youth delegation presented themselves to the Pacific and the world in a side event held at the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion.
The youth representatives included an engineer, a performance artist, a life-long climate activist, and an emerging youth advocate.
Samoa’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE), Hon. Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster, stated that including youth in the Samoan delegation to COP28 is part of the Samoan government’s efforts to recognise the youth voice and the need for it to be heard, for they are the future of not only their country, the region, but also the world.
“We need to include the voices of the youth in order for us to understand their issues and their concerns, and to empower them to be engaged in different areas of our work, not only in international events, but in the work being done back home,” he said.
Moderated by Ms Bernadette Amosa, Climate Change office within MNRE, the panel discussion highlighted some of the work that the youth representatives are already doing back home in Samoa, and what it means for them to be attending COP28 officially as part of the Samoa delegation.
Ms Moemoana Schwenke, the reigning Miss Samoa, used her time on the panel to highlight the way Pacific Island peoples can use their traditional performative arts as part of their advocacy. She drew on the example of a Samoan song that resulted from the Mt Matavanu volcanic eruption in 1905, which can act as both an early warning for a disaster and as a call to action for people to evacuate.
“Traditional learning methods through creative and performing arts continue to enable the engagement, learning, and continuity of important causes for our people, in this case, climate action.”
We don’t need to look far for the solutions, our ancestors have already laid out a foundation and blueprint of how we navigate the world. The answers are in the languages we speak, the dances we dance, the artefacts we weave, and the chants we chant.”
She quoted the late Hawai’ian educator and champion for the Hawai’ian culture, who stated that culture should not be ornamental or recreational but should rather be used as the core of our anger, of our mana, and our advocacy.
Young Samoan renewable energy engineer, Mr Nicc Moeono, is studying towards a PhD in Engineering with a focus on renewable energy and recognised that Samoa is always last in the race when it comes to transitioning of energy sources.
“The Pacific Islands have constraints that no other region in the world has, in terms of our isolated location, lack of resources and others. This brings an opportunity for sustainable development and to make our islands self-sufficient.
With COP28 being his first COP, Mr Moeono said he is seeing a lot of new technologies and has come across a lot of different ideas, and he is looking at how and whether some of these technologies and ideas can be taken back to, and applied in, Samoa.
Ms Marinda Tagiilima Leiataua, like many other young Pacific climate advocates, was inspired to take up activism because of a lived reality. When she was nine years old, Tropical Cyclone Evan hit Samoa and her family had to flee their home on foot to find shelter on higher ground. She vividly remembers running while holding her three month-old nephew in her hands.
“This started a fire in me to do something to help protect my country against the impacts of climate change, which results in even more severe weather events such as cyclones and flooding that affects our homes and livelihoods.”
Ms Leiataua acknowledged with gratitude the decision by the Government of Samoa, during its National Environment Week in October this year, to hold the first ever Children and Youth Panel on Climate Change, and to include youth representatives in the delegation to COP28.
Another youth representative who is no stranger to the climate change space, Suluafi Brianna Fruean, encouraged everyone to choose to hope instead of despair in the fight to keep the 1.5 degree goal alive, despite slow or lack of progress from countries in fulfilling their obligations under the Paris Agreement.
“Hope is hard, but despair is easy. It’s easy to give up, to say that this is the end, that 1.5 is not achievable, and wash our hands of any responsibility,” she said.
“As long as our islands breathe, there is hope; as long as our islands breathe, there is time; and those who wash their hands of any responsibility stain their hands with the saltwater that has not yet drowned us, but has drowned them,” she added.