"If we don't stand up for ourselves, who will?"

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Pacific Islands communities are "adapting and fighting" to prevent rising sea levels from sweeping away their cultures, a Micronesian activist told young global leaders.

Yolanda Joab, 26, described how communities in her nation of the Federated States of Micronesia were being proactive in safeguarding their futures. "If we don't stand up for ourselves, who will?" she asked, in an impassioned speech at the One Young World 2016 Summit.

She said she was "always in awe" of the "amazing fortitude" of her compatriots. She said that Micronesians were neither "merely waiting to be saved" nor "standing idly by". She said: "We are adapting, we are fighting."

Joab runs a Climate Change Adaptation, Disaster Risk Reduction & Education Program across the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau. 

For five years, she has helped lead a programme that has educated some 10,000 school students in 62 schools in 57 communities, helping island communities to take matters into their own hands and develop schemes for tackling climate change according to their own needs. 


This has resulted in sea walls being erected on the islands of Kosrae and Pohnpei. Rainwater stations have been set up in schools across the region. Other schools, which previously lacked reliable energy sources, have installed solar panels. In Chuuk, under-served schools have been rejuvenated through the introduction of sanitation and clean water programmes. 

She said young students had come to introduce words like "biodiversity" and "conservation" it not their regular vocabulary. "It's not just about the big and expensive solutions, it's usually the smallest steps that make the biggest difference."

She said the scheme was "about raising a generation of young Micronesians knowledgable of this reality". 

But Joab told the audience of 1300 young leaders from more than 190 countries that "climate change is not just our problem," and that islanders deserved support. 

"We are co-owners, co-creators and co-authors in this story and it can have a very different ending from what I fear," she said. "But only if, in addition to what we are doing back home, our global community pours the same amount of energy, time and effort into investing in renewable energy technology the same way we did as inventing the same iPhone, over and over again."

She called on the media to give the same attention to "the untold stories of indigenous people struggling to preserve their oceans" as they give to reality television shows.

Joab concluded that mankind's history showed that it possessed the means to tackle the climate change problem and called the young leaders to action. "Show me that we can work together, show me that greatness that I know is in all of us and let's change this course together."

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