11 Nov The journey of a warrior – Anote Tong
11 November, 2017. Germany/Kiribati – What’s required to be a climate warrior who advocates for the Pacific? Youth warriors in this fight will speak of ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’. They pay tribute to the pioneers who first started calling for the world to accept that climate change is a human-caused phenomenon, and the Pacific was (and still is) bearing the brunt of it’s effects.
Anote Tong, the former President of Kiribati, is that ‘giant amongst giants’ in the Pacific. Earlier this week, he spoke at the United Nations Climate Conference about his journey.
“For me it was a very lonely journey because nobody else was talking about climate change. I was talking about climate change when nobody else was talking about it in the United Nations General Assembly. It was all about terrorism.”
“I couldn’t talk about terrorism, and I thought what can I talk about that is important to me and relevant to the global community? And it was climate change. That was before the 4th assessment report came out.”
“So we thought about another way to try and talk about climate change and we came up with eco-terrorism because everybody was so excited about terrorism. I thought that this was the way to convey to people that climate change was just as dangerous as terrorism, if not worse. but still nobody listened.”
Tong’s honest and moving account gave a glimpse into the isolation that the first climate change believers felt, being the only voices speaking a message that nobody believed or wanted to hear.
“For quite some time, I spoke alone. I was very angry. And very frustrated. And there were times when I was so depressed.”
“We went to Copenhagen [the UN Climate Change conference] in 2009 and that was a huge disappointment. I hosted dinner for those [from the Pacific] that came and it was one of the saddest nights of my life. Because I could see what nobody else could see. I could see it coming. And that’s part of the problem we have. We see what nobody else can see and we care when nobody else is.”
“Its about telling that story, to somehow mobilise whatever compassion people have because climate change is a moral challenge. It’s not an economic issue.”
There’s a reason why they call climate change activists – warriors. Strength, courage and commitment are needed.
“There’s been occasions when I’ve had confrontations with fellow leaders and they’re arguing that they cannot go below 2 degrees because it would damage their economies. And I say, no you’re not hearing, you’re not listening. What this is about is the survival of people.”
“Let me be frank, there’s been times when I’ve said to myself why should I continue to waste my time? Nobody’s listening. They pretend but they’re still pursuing their own agenda.”
“On the issue of climate change we politicise the issue. For example, New Zealand has just had a change in government which means climate change is at the top of the agenda. But when there’s another change of government, then it will go down to the bottom again.”
“And that’s the saddest thing that is happening. The tragedy. Because we continue to view climate change from our national perspectives.”
“Politicians are perhaps the worst leaders on the issue of climate change because they think about the next election. They don’t think about the next generation.”
“In order to tackle climate change, we need to put away our national agendas. We need to become global leaders and not national leaders. We don’t want politicians who are thinking about the next election.”
Tong had strong words to say about the United Nations and the climate treaty process.
“The UN system is ineffective because it doesn’t tell people to do the right thing. We talk about climate justice but here we are in the midst of gross injustice, and there’s still nothing and nobody doing anything about it.”
“We have a long way to go.”
Tong then spoke to the 350 Pacific Climate Warriors, and paid tribute to their work.
“But with the energy that I’m seeing here, I’m truly inspired. An old warrior like me, Im supposed to be retired and I’m still talking about it. I want to congratulate you young warriors. It’s been a lonely journey but to have young people like you now, it gives me heart that may yet win this fight. Be assured we are always standing behind you.”
But like the legend he is, Tong urged us all to aim higher and fight harder.
“Let’s take it further. Let’s look beyond 1.5. That doesn’t solve the problem for most of us. Tuvalu, Kiribati, Tokelau we will still go under water.”
“Lets not stop at 1.5. Let’s be ambitious and talk about REVERSING climate change. Is it doable? Of course. Anything is doable.”
“I have been introduced to the concept of regenerative development. Building structures using concrete that is carbon absorbing. New technology that we should be talking about to go beyond 1.5.”
“Lets make it minus 3 degrees. Lets go for the big fight because 1.5 doesn’t save our people. If we stay at 1.5 we will drown, so lets keep fighting.”