As I sit under the open sky on our motor skiff boat zigzagging through the lagoon’s islands, sitting on the edge of the reef, the landscape never fails to grab me; the beauty, the stillness, the heat, the scent of salt and sea passing through the piercing wind. The time on the water while en route to one of the outer-most islands allows for a lot of reflection on what will be the first workshop in a series which makes up our program and a large part of my life: CADRE, the Climate Change Adaptation, Disaster Risk Reduction & Education Program.
We visit these islands and initiate dialogue with the people who otherwise wouldn’t have their voices heard. We pose questions that need to be asked at the community level and collectively try to find the answers. “How can we prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change?” There is always an inner sense of conflict, a moral battle between the questions and conversations I’m stirring up versus the actions I could be taking right then and there. But the answer is always both because the approach to this must be holistic.
Nine times out of ten, when I go into a classroom, a school or community meeting I am their introduction to this climate change nightmare. I play a role that walks a dangerous line of being the barer of bad news or the instiller of hope that rallies together the need to fight, to be informed and to be proactive. And so begins the natural onslaught of questions which slam you into a reality that feels unnatural; unnatural because of the gutting moment when they realise they are living in a reality that wasn’t of their own making. Climate change—“What is it?” “What’s causing it?” “So these are the effects of it?” “So that’s why this has been happening?” “So that’s why my livelihood is suffering?” “What can we do about it?” “Why wasn’t this stopped?” “Why?” “Why?” “Why?”
It is a moral battle that I wish more leaders would consider. But the reality is, most of them have the luxury of not having to come face to face with it. The level of urgency with which the global community needs to respond to climate change is so real and obvious when I’m out in these communities.
With COP22 looming in the coming days, there is high anticipation for what global leaders will accomplish in light of the great progress made at COP21 in Paris last year. In the eyes of the world’s smallest islands, Micronesia, or as we like to be called, ‘large ocean states’, the momentum must continue into COP22 as we are nowhere near over the bend yet. The decisions and goals that come out of COP22 must be action based, bold and revolutionary. We need leaders, both public and private, to walk into this conference ready to put their biases and comfort zones aside and prepared to adapt with us, not spite us.
The Paris Agreement shows great promise; the world showed us that the will is there, but now is the time to put forth actionable agreements. We must spell out the ways in which we are going to make large scale transitions to renewable energy and hold ourselves accountable to commitments through enforcements. Until then, that line I walk when answering my students and countrymen’s questions will soon become a slippery slope of a morally-corrupt losing battle. COP22 is already being hailed the “COP of Action”, I pray it lives up to its name.
Yolanda Joab is a Senior Program Coordinator at the International Organization for Migration from the Federated States of Micronesia. She runs IOM's Climate Change Adaptation, Disaster Risk Reduction & Education Program across Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau. She is a One Young World Ambassador.