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Climate Warriors of the Island Nation of Kiribati

A girl in Temwaiku sits on what remains of a sea wall, constructed to protect her village from sea level rise.

A girl in Temwaiku sits on what remains of a sea wall, constructed to protect her village from sea level rise. Photo by author.

This article was written by Fenton Lutunatabua for 350.org in March and is published on Global Voices as part of a content sharing agreement.

It is no secret that the Pacific Region is on the frontline of climate change. In a place like Kiribati, its effects on people’s immediate environment are highly visible and impact their daily lives in a variety of ways. Throughout the Pacific, climate change is heightening the intensity of extreme weather events, driving sea levels up and exacerbating droughts. If that’s not scary enough, if the world keeps burning fossil fuels as it currently intends to, this is just the beginning for Kiribati, and it can only get worse.

Last month I travelled to Kiribati to help facilitate a Climate Warrior Training for young people on the island of Tarawa. During my time as a climate activist, Kiribati has always been used as an example of a low-lying Pacific Island country grappling with the effects of climate change.

At the Global Power Shift, a convergence to train climate leaders in Istanbul last year, I had met a young man named Toani Benson, who spoke with passion about the impact of climate change on his people. This validated my belief that the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the safe limit of 350 parts per million (ppm), is without a doubt, imperative.

Sea walls in the coastal village of Temwaiku; one of the most vulnerable villages south of Tarawa. Walls erected around the village to protect it from the sea are regularly torn down by the ever so ferocious, rising waves.

Sea walls in the coastal village of Temwaiku; one of the most vulnerable villages south of Tarawa. Walls are erected around the village to protect it from the sea are regularly torn down by the ever so ferocious, rising waves. Photo by author.

A Generation of Climate Warriors Stand Up for the Pacific

Globally, 350.org is taking on the fossil fuel industry and it is high time for 350 Pacific to join in this fight too. If we sit back and let the fossil fuel industry further their economic aspirations, then it will be time to bid farewell to many of our beautiful Pacific Islands, along with their people, culture and traditional knowledge.

A large part of what shapes this battle against the giant fossil fuel industry depends on how we build and wield the people power base we have as Pacific Islanders and as nations.

A generation of Climate Warriors is rising to stand up for the Pacific and build on our authentic and inherent truths, strengths and aspirations.

We need to inspire innovativeness and creativity in our young climate warriors, and place an emphasis ­‐ like never before ­‐ on the unity of our region.

This moment is allowing us the opportunity to show the world that this is a fight based on regional cooperation and pure love for our island homes. We will not be fighting alone. Our allies are many, and collectively we are powerful.

We are at an important point in our history where we have the opportunity to stir up the warrior energy of 14 Pacific Island nations and territories to create a powerful moment that will echo in eternity, declaring “We are not drowning. We are fighting”.

We are developing the capacity of young people across the region to live up to that call and push the envelope a bit by taking our fight to confronting the fossil fuel industry.

This training is not just about raising awareness but an attempt to build the resilience of young people by getting them to understand climate truths and appreciate the heart of the global climate movement. We are giving these young leaders the chance to have a stake in the futures they so rightfully deserve. We are empowering them to be part of the solution and become effective agents of change within their own communities.

As Pelenise Alofa, a long time 350 Kiribati member narrates:

This generation of young people are lucky. They have the means and opportunity to overcome ignorance. What we teach them doesn’t require them having money. We are teaching them traditional knowledge and how they can marry cultural understanding with modern day activism to make the change required. They can be empowered and in turn empower others. I have hope for a future where the Kiribati people not only exist, but live – in every sense of the word.

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