This article is dedicated to Koreti Tiumalu.
I am writing this article in Bonn, Germany, as a delegate with the Canadian Youth Delegation (CYD) for the United Nations’ Conference of Parties (COP). The 23rd session is held this year in Germany and is referred to as COP23. I am returning in my role as a youth delegate after a tumultuous time at COP22, which was held in Marrakech, Morocco. This year, I am the only delegate from Atlantic Canada. I will be devoting the next few articles of this column to the experiences that I have witnessed at this conference as a party delegate. With my party badge, I have the privilege of having the highest level of access in negotiation spaces.
Although COP23 is being held in Germany, the Republic of Fiji is presiding. It is the first time that a Small Island Developing State is hosting a United Nations Framework for Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) conference. In light of one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases – the United States – dropping out of the Paris Agreement, the Fiji presidency at COP23 is a political act of defiance to continue to move even more boldly on climate action.
Pacific Island nations like Fiji are on the frontlines of climate change as they adapt to rising sea levels. These vulnerable nations have already started to relocate their people – mainly Indigenous peoples who have lived in these flooded areas for millennia – to inland areas. As we talk about climate change in negotiations at COP23, Fiji reminds us that we are not talking about abstract concepts. Climate change is now. It is affecting people now – especially in the Global South.
Koreti Tiumalu was a Samoan climate activist who worked with the Pacific Climate Warriors. She passed away due to sudden illness in July 2017, soon after spending time in Canada for the Raise a Paddle campaign with 350.org. The Pacific Climate Warriors travelled to the Alberta tar sands to witness the extent of Canada’s complicity in climate disaster. During a tour for the campaign, Tiumalu shared a story of how families on low-lying Pacific Island nations would take lengths of rope and tie themselves to one another to ensure that families would, at least, find each others’ bodies if blown away during cyclones and hurricanes. “While there is a small window of opportunity that exists, we are not drowning – we are fighting,” Tiumalu said during the campaign.
In discussing climate change and science within the safety of our academic walls, we have an inherent responsibility and privilege to act in solidarity in the depths of climate disaster. There is a time and place for theoretical conversations, and there is a time and place to fiercely resist the incessant inaction of our institutions. I must ask, how is it immoral to wreck the planet, yet defensible to profit off that wreckage? How is it morally compatible with the teachings of academia to remain complicit in the exploitation of labour, dangerous extraction and futile inaction? Being at COP23 strengthens my resolve that Mount Allison must divest from this complicity. If we do not act, who will?