Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Brianna Fruean addresses world leaders with wise words at COP26

brianna fruean cop26

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Ann-Tauilo Motuga | Reporter/Videographer

Samoan environmentalist Brianna Fruean has turned heads for her ground-breaking speech at COP26 held in Glasgow, Scotland.

The passionate 23-year-old told world leaders that young Pasifika people are not victims of climate change but resilient beacons of hope.

“We are not drowning, we are fighting. This is my message from Earth to COP.”

COP (shortened for Conference of Parties) is a gathering of parties to negotiate solutions and actions towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on climate change.

Fruean told Coconet TV that it is important we sway from the toxic idea that Pacific people are victims of climate change.

“I think that type of framing and storytelling does a huge disservice to the resilience of Pacific people who live within the climate crisis,” she says.

“We have our mamas in Kiribati building sea walls. We have families in the Vaisigano river constantly rebuilding their houses, teaching their kids how to adapt to floods. We have those in Melanesia replanting indigenous trees to help their shorelines become stronger.”

Fruean believes Pacific people will step up to save our islands if COP fails.

“I believe COP is like a compass. We’re all in a collective canoe, and if we’re able to get COP right, we can be pointed in the right direction,” Fruean told BBC News.

“At the end of the day, my ancestors travelled the oceans without compasses, so if COP doesn’t work, the people will.

The impacts of climate change on the Pacific islands have caused sea-levels to rise in low-lying atoll nations such as Kiribati and Marshall Islands. The change in climate variability is set to accelerate the occurrence and intensity of natural disasters across the Pacific.

Regional Pacific Campaign Specialist Jacynta Fa’amau says “it isn’t fair” that Pacific people must fight to protect their islands.

“The Pacific are at the frontlines of the impacts of climate change yet contribute the least to cause climate change,” she says.

“It isn’t fair. It isn’t right, and if we don’t stand up to protect it, who will?”

Fruean and Fa’amau are strong environmental advocates who are working alongside the Pacific Climate Warriors delegation, a network of Pacific youth who mobilise and do grassroots organising with Pacific communities to fight climate change.

“It is about identity and justice,” Fa’amau says. “Fighting to protect the homes in the Pacific is equally as important as protecting its diverse cultures.”

Fruean adds that climate damage should be financed.

“There’s no such thing as climate aid; it’s climate debt,” she told Democracy Now!

“Bigger countries that make money from the fossil fuel industry that make money from extractive industries owe us debt, because we are experiencing the consequences of their inaction.”

“If we’re able to really think about the islands, think about extinction and save our Pacific Islands, I think that can be our first step as a humanity. We need to look out for each other, and everyone can’t just think that this is just an issue for the Pacific. This is an issue for the rest of the world.”

COP26 negotiations will continue until Friday 12 November. The summit’s aim is to make progress in achieving net zero carbon emissions and to keep global warming below the 1.5C threshold.

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