The Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassadors Sailing for Peace and Sustainability
A group of young leaders from states on the front line of climate change and marine degradation joined Peace Boat’s 95th Global Voyage in Barcelona on September 22 as a part of a new programme to highlight these crucial issues and build momentum for climate action and the Bonn 2017 UN Climate Change Conference (COP23). These young women and men between 19 and 26 years of age are from the regions of the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean and Caribbean. Over the following three weeks, they visited Lisbon (Sep 25), Bordeaux (Sep 28), London (Oct 1), Edinburgh (Oct 3), Reykjavik (Oct 7) and New York (Oct 15). In every port, they connected with civil society organizations and government agencies bringing their message to citizens and government representatives through the voyage. The participants were Kya Lal (Fiji); Selina Leem (Marshall Islands); Matea Nauto (Kiribati); Ashwa Faheem (Maldives); Shafira Charlette (Seychelles); La Tisha Parkinson (Trinidad and Tobago); and Zana Kristen Wade (Belize). All of them have diverse backgrounds in science, campaigning, public policy, civil society, grassroots and international activism.
The Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador Programme is an endorsed event of the COP23 in line with Fiji’s vision for the COP23, as recognized by the COP23 Presidency Secretariat. A flag bearing the official logo of COP23 was raised in a ceremony with the Captain onboard. Peace Boat is proud to fly the flag with the official logo of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in conjunction with the COP23 logo on the mast of its ship from Barcelona, throughout the Ambassador Programme and until the beginning of the conference. It is the official emblem of the 23rd annual Conference of Parties (COP23) that will take place in Bonn, Germany from November 6 to 17. Peace Boat is a campaigner for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its vessel sails with the Global Goals logo on the side of the hull. The programme the climate agenda with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and was one of Peace Boat’s Voluntary Commitments to SDG14 (Life Under Water) at the Ocean Conference in New York in June.
The Youth Ambassadors boarded the ship in Barcelona where an onboard event was held while Peace Boat’s ship was docked in port. The Minister of Territory and Sustainability of the Catalan Government, Josep Rull, spoke at the event about efforts made by the government to mitigate climate change. Enrique Segovia of the World Wildlife Fund Spain shared the current overall situation in relation to climate change and the perspective of civil society organisations working on the issue. Each of the representatives from the small islands spoke about the situation on the front line of climate change. The event was at full capacity and attended by many government and civil society representatives. One hundred and fifty school students attended from 15 schools in the area. It was an excellent opportunity to engage in “Talanoa,” as outlined in Fiji’s Vision for COP23. The day ended with a visit to The Beach Centre, an information, meeting and training centre for anyone with an interest in the Barcelona coastline and related topics. There the Youth Ambassadors spoke with the team responsible for the activities, particularly about the project “Observadors del Mar” (The Sea Observers) and took part in an activity to learn about the impact of microplastics and marine pollution in the Mediterranean Sea.
In their first stop, Lisbon, the Youth Ambassadors disembarked from Peace Boat’s ship and travelled to the Pavilion of Knowledge via a traditional sailing boat that used to be a commonplace sight in the Tagus River and its estuary. The Youth Ambassadors asked the skipper to fly the COP 23 flag from the mast of the ship and it waved overhead during the hour-long journey along the coast of Portugal. The youth were joined onboard by scientists and civil society members who shared with them the effects of climate change in Portugal. At the Pavilion of Knowledge, the event began when Ana Noronha, Executive Director of Ciencia Viva, and politician Fausto Brito e Abreu, Director General for Maritime Policy, welcomed the Youth Ambassadors and gave a speech affirming the importance of their mission to fight climate change. Each of the ambassadors took to the stage and gave speeches and showed images of how rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and the increasing number of storms have affected their communities. Selina Leem, from the Marshall Islands, performed an emotional poem about the consequences of climate change on her home.
Jerome Augereau, a photographer from Lacanau, joined the ship from Portugal to France and while aboard taught the ambassadors about the situation along the coast. While the ship docked in Bordeaux, he accompanied the Youth Ambassadors to Lacanau, where they met with Martin Renard, Director of Urban Planning for the Lacanau City Council, and Gerard Depeyris, a member of the Cooperation Committee of Lacanau. Mr Renard and Mr Depeyris discussed the different options the town is considering in order to combat the erosion problem, including the expensive process of relocating the town a considerable distance from the current location of the shore. Mr Renard and the other hosts also explained how the problem is made much worse by periodic storms exacerbated by climate change, most notably a series of eight storms which hit the region over three months in the winter of 2013-14. The storms caused more than ten meters of beach and dune erosion in Lacanau. Many places along the coast similarly lost 10-20 meters of land, with the most extreme case, Soulac-sur-Mer, losing 40 meters. These areas worst affected have already started to deal with the reality of climate refugees, as tenants had to be evacuated from an apartment building near the beach. It was a powerful experience for the Youth Ambassadors to understand that although their islands are on the front line of climate change, there are communities in large continental countries feeling the same consequences.
From France, Peace Boat’s vessel sailed to the United Kingdom. During the first stop in London, the Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassadors met with young climate activists from London for discussions on what politics, civil society, the arts and business need to do to save the oceans. The event was arranged by Ocean Generation, formerly known as “We Are The Oceans” and facilitated by Rys Farthing and Daisy Kendrick. Discussions took place over lunch at the Cub Lyon Restaurant in East London. The restaurant aims for zero waste and creates dishes which use ingredients that would otherwise go to waste. The group went to Dalston Pier, an art studio that was the perfect venue for the public event “Conversations with Christiana Figueres”. It was the first time for the Youth Ambassadors to meet Christiana who was the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2010-2016, including during the historical Paris Agreement of 2015, and is currently the convener of Mission 2020. The panel discussion facilitated by Richard Black, Director of Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit saw Ashwa Faheem and Matea Nauto take to the stage. The event was well attended by many young people and provoked a lively discussion.
Christiana Figueres boarded Peace Boat’s ship from London to Edinburgh to engage the Youth Ambassadors in capacity training seminars and discussions based on her experiences leading the climate negotiations in Paris in 2015. The time sailing at sea together was a perfect opportunity for the young climate activists to understand the mechanisms of the global negotiations. The most valuable lesson they learned was from Ms. Figueres experiences leading the UNFCCC. She referred to herself as a “stubborn optimist”. Taking control following the disappointing events of the Conference of Parties in Copenhagen when no agreement was reached, Ms. Figueres was determined to bring about an agreement and believed it to be possible. She told the group that obstacles were there to be overcome in whatever way possible.
In the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh the Youth Ambassadors took part in a special parliamentary event on nuclear weapons and climate change at the Scottish Parliament. They were joined at Holyrood by Ms. Kimura Tokoko, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Urata Shion, a Youth Communicator for a nuclear free world travelling with Ms Kimura onboard Peace Boat to call for a nuclear free world. The event was organised by Mr. Bill Kidd, Chief Whip of the Scottish National Party and Member of the Scottish National Party. They met there Ms. Fiona Jane Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs and Ms. Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. Ms, Cunningham said that Scotland had a special responsibility for action on climate change because of its role in leading the industrial revolution. Kya Lal spoke about the upcoming COP23 and Fiji’s role while Salena Leem spoke about the dual effects of nuclear testing and climate change on the Marshall Islands. Ms Kimura gave testimony of her experiences in Nagasaki. That evening Christiana Figueres – awarded the Shackleton medal by the Scottish government and the National Royal Geographic Society for her work to address climate change. The Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassadors were her special guests to the award ceremony. During her acceptance speech, she invited the seven young climate leaders to the stage and made an emotional tribute to them. She metaphorically passed the baton for climate action to them which moved all the members to tears filling them with determination to continue the fight.
During the Youth Ambassadors’ call to Iceland, they visited the Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Station, the second largest geothermal power station in the world. The turbines are used for electricity production; wells are drilled into the surface of the earth, where pressurized water locked below the ground turns into steam as it rises and is used to turn the turbine blades and generate electricity. It is geothermal energy’s ability to provide hot water and heating in addition to electricity that makes it such a great solution to the country’s energy needs and a possibility for climate mitigation. At the Geothermal Park of Heragerdi, a hot spring town located 45km south of Reykjavik, the Youth Ambassadors learned how geothermal energy from the local hot springs aided in the development of the town including building greenhouses that trapped heat from the hot springs inside, thus increasing the growing season and crop yields. The group visited one of the local swimming pools heated by the geothermal water, before their meeting in a local café with representatives of Ungir umhverfissinnar, the only young environmentalist movement in Icealnd. The day’s activities finished with dinner onboard the ship with Dagfinnur Sveinbjörnsson, CEO and Takeshi Kaji, Director of The Arctic Circle.
The Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador Programme concluded in New York. The Youth Ambassadors reported on their activities at a large onboard event, “The Floating Festival for Sustainability” where guest speakers included Ms Marie Paule Roudil, Director of the UNESCO Liaison Office New York and Mr. Gene Bai, First Secretary of the Mission of Fiji to the United Nations. The Ambassadors to the United Nations of Kiribati, H.E. Mr. Teburoro Tito and Trinidad & Tobago, H.E. Ms. Penelope Beckles, as well as representatives from the Permanent Mission of the Marshall Islands attended to the hear the young leaders from their countries speak. The following day, the Youth Ambassadors visited the United Nations Headquarters where they reported about the programme in a side-event entitled “Our Ocean, Our Future: SIDS Youth Sailing for Climate Action and Peace: Peace Boat Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassadors share messages for COP23”. The event was organized with the collaboration of Trinidad and Tobago Permanent Mission to the United Nations. Following interview with the SDG Media Zone and the Global Goals media platform, the group left to visit the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Mr Andrew Hudson, Head of the Water & Ocean Governance Programme UNDP welcomed them to a session to learn about the work of the UNDP on ocean conservation and sustainable development.