11 Aug 2020

Pacific climate warriors call for a 'just recovery'

5:55 am on 11 August 2020
Patricia Mallam

Patricia Mallam Photo: Supplied/350 Pacific

At a time when there's so much uncertainty with the Covid-19 pandemic, a Pacific 'climate warrior' has warned that unless governments take the necessary steps to tackle the climate crisis, things will only get worse.

Patricia Mallam, of the 350 Pacific organisation, said the climate crisis had not slowed or gone away.

Mallam said Pacific government priorities were more geared towards helping health systems to address the pandemic.

"It's a shame that it took a pandemic for us to see clearly where allegiances lie," she said.

"While governments and industries are figuring out an economic recovery, we want to remind them that you need to put the people first and we're talking about the health of the people and that also includes the environment that they're in."

Mallam said the science had clearly stated that the fossil fuel industry and other big polluters were strong, quick and co-ordinated.

She said in order to overcome them, governments must stand together and build collective power.

"It's clear right now this is what it needs to look like," she said. "Continuing the work in the face of this health crisis.

"Whilst we are figuring that out, we are also figuring out ways to sustain our communities and build our resilience for future crises."

Mallam said a 12-week online training had offered 'climate warriors' the opportunity to do just that.

Young Pacific climate warriors.

Young Pacific climate warriors. Photo: Supplied/3-50 Pacific

Climate warriors graduate

Last week marked a significant milestone for global climate activism as 30 Pacific 'climate warriors' from nine countries graduated from the Pacific Pawa Up Fellowship (PPUF).

The group underwent a 12-week online training initiative designed to coach Pacific climate activists by equipping them with essential skills needed to make a positive impact in a rapidly changing landscape.

They dedicated their time to develop their skills as climate leaders, Mallam said.

"These young people have chosen to access this opportunity to improve their skills and increase their understanding of climate action."

She said the Pacific Pawa Up training was an essential trajectory for Pacific youth, which modelled the 'Principles of a Just Recovery' for a more sustainable and secure future.

The five 'Principles of a Just Recovery' included putting people's health first, no exceptions, she said.

"Providing economic relief directly to the people, helping our workers and communities, not corporate executives, creating resilience for future crises, and building solidarity and community across borders - not empowering authoritarians."

Young climate warriors step up

The Pacific Climate Warriors (PCWs) took to the streets during the Global Climate Strikes last September and rallied behind campaigns to halt the fossil fuel industry.

However, Mallam said due to the pandemic and social distancing measures, new challenges had emerged for climate activists across the world.

"Combined with the incessant impacts of climate change such as Cyclone Harold, which amounted to at least $US123.5 million in damages, Pacific islanders are constantly reminded that climate change is not going to slow down, nor disappear regardless of a pandemic."

One of the graduates, Fiji's Ernest Gibson, said there was no way "we can go back to normal" because the climate crisis and the global pandemic were both results of how humans had continued to ignore red flags by investing in unsustainable systems that only profited the wealthy few.

Gibson, who also participated in last year's Global Climate Strikes, said developed countries had the obligation to invest in building a resilient global community across political borders.

"And they need to know that the youth are stepping up by harnessing the power of digital platforms and sharpening our skills to take back the reins for a future that we want," he said.

"A future that puts people first."

Okalani Mariner.

Okalani Mariner. Photo: Supplied/350 Pacific

'We are not drowning, we are fighting'

Samoan 'climate warrior' Okalani Mariner said prior to joining the Pacific Pawa Up Fellowship, she had been feeling a little lost.

Mariner said the part inside of her that burned for community, storytelling and climate justice felt less like a flame and more so like a glowing ember.

She said during the last three months, the climate community had been patient, gentle and encouraging.

"You have taught us the power of our voices when we stand united together as one," she told the graduates. "You have reminded me of the impact you can make by sharing your unique story.

"In Samoan culture, we use the ipu ava or bilo in welcoming ceremonies to scoop and serve the ava to the high chief and visiting guests to honour and welcome them into the village.

"Today the ipu ava is symbolic for us. We are the ipu ava and the love, encouragement, knowledge, skillsets and mentoring we have received from our PCW family is the ava inside."

Mariner urged the graduates to use the knowledge, skill sets and mentoring that they had received to teach and educate others that there was hope for future generations.

"That there are warriors who will not stop until the voices of our people are heard, that these warriors have banded together as one to declare that we are not drowning, we are fighting," she said.

"This is my prayer, that we - like the ipu ava will pour our knowledge and our love out to others so that it may also fill their ipu, just as this fellowship has filled ours."

Mallam said the training also included inspiring individuals to take action and grow leadership, and diversify, support, link and grow groups within the Pacific climate movement and beyond.

She said other topics were shifting narratives on climate action and climate justice (so that participants could) dismantle pillars of support of the fossil fuel industry.

Graduates also learned to organise and engage climate activists, strategising, engaging in the UNFCCC process, storytelling and communications skills, she said.

"The PPUF tapped into the power of digital platforms and communications systems to create an enabling platform to ensure the Pacific Climate Warriors are doing the work required to continue organizing their communities while respecting the cultural diversity of indigenous communities and the integrity of front-line communities."


...... Photo: Supplied/350 Pacific