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‘We may be small islands, but no man is an island’, Papua New Guinea youth

New York, U.S.A/UN – September 27, 2019: 4pm (Nuku’alofaTimes/UN): A Papua New Guinea youth and an actor both told world leaders and the United Nations this morning that “we maybe small but we are important” during the opening ceremony of the SAMOA PATHWAY Mid Term Review at the UN.

“All of us from small islands can relate to the word’s perception of us, as small islands,….an undivided Pacific, connected by an ocean highway,” young PNG woman Vinzealhar Ainjo Kwangin Nen said in her address in front of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and world leaders earlier today.

Vinzealhar Ainjo Kwangin Nen, a youth speaker from Papua New Guinea, addresses a meeting on Small Island Developing States at the United Nations in New York.. Photo: UN

The young advocate from the island nation of Papua New Guinea, painted a vivid picture of the dangers for delegates, during the last major summit of the UN’s high level week, dedicated to looking at the progress and pitfalls facing Small Island Developing States (SIDS) as the world warms, and the seas rise.

She offered a personal view in poetic form, of the struggles she is dealing with.

“I am a youth of a small island, when in a global community, most everyone doesn’t know where I am. And what hurts the most, is I know where they all are,” she added.

Actor Jason Momoa or the Aquaman said small island nations share a unique set of challenges due to their size and remoteness. While they emit the least carbon, they suffer the worst effects of climate change.

Testimonies like the two received a warm welcome during the event, geared towards addressing climate and development issues unique to island states, and assessing the implementation of priorities laid out in a 2014 mandate, to accelerate SIDS development.

The Small Island Developing States Accelerated Modalities of Action – or SAMOA Pathway, was agreed in September 2014, during the Third International Conference to focus the world’s attention on islands’ special development roles and particular vulnerabilities.

As world leaders gathered for a mid-term review on the plan’s implementation, five years form its adoption, they conceded that progress toward sustainable development for SIDS require a major increase in urgent investment, and the road to stability for many island nations is threatened by amplified environmental challenges, economic crises, food security, and others.

While some progress has been made in addressing social inclusion, gender equality, poverty and unemployment, inequality continues to affect vulnerable groups, and devastating effects of climate change cause lasting loss of life and property.

Putting the plan into action represents “an important chance for the international community to demonstrate solidarity”, Secretary-General Guterres stressed.

“Small Island Developing States are a special case for sustainable development. They require the concerted long-term attention and investment of the entire international community”, he said.

Following in line for comment,

He said SIDS are important and they were close to his heart.

President Michael Higgins of Ireland, which sponsored the event, emphasized that “we cannot allow our words in one compartment to be contradictory to another. There must be consistency across the architecture and delivery, most of all the words must be followed by action”.

“This is not academic, this is about life,” he added, highlighting that for island nations “the word ‘disaster’ has a different meaning…as it is a disaster that will come again and again, and therefore response must take account of the danger of recurrence.”

President Higgins said the SIDS were showing the world how things should be done and they bring the climate change issues to the forum because they face the real challenges every day.

The day-long review comes one month after Hurricane Dorian devastated parts of the Bahamas, adding to the increasing frequency, scale and intensity of natural disasters and their unique threat to island nations and their people.

Keynote speaker and leading Hollywood actor Momoa said he was “ashamed that not all leaders have wanted agreement”, referring the groundbreaking 2015 Paris Climate pledge to limit the globe from warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Momoa painted a dire picture of mankind’s abuse of the environment, and the particular devastating impacts of sea level rise on island nations that are going underwater.

“We are the living consequence of forgotten traditions,” Momoa said. “We suffer a collective amnesia of a truth that was once understood. The truth that to cause irreversible damage to the earth, is to bring the same unto ourselves.

“We the island nations – and all coastal communities – are the front lines in this environmental crisis,

“The oceans are in a state of emergency. Entire marine ecosystems are vanishing with the warming of the seas. And as the waste of the world empties into our waters, we face the devastating crisis of plastic pollution.

“We are a disease that is infecting our planet,

“Three years ago in Paris, the world stood united and vowed to keep the earth below 1.5 degrees of warming,” speaking of the Paris Agreement.

“We pledged to hold ourselves to a higher standard, and to do what is right.”

But American President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement in 2017, just before COP23 in Bonn, Germany.

Momoa said he was ashamed of that.

“I’m standing here today because I am ashamed that not all of our leaders have honored this agreement. Delegates, I ask you now, do we still stand in unity for this cause? Do you intend to honor the commitments for a betterment of mankind? Or will you continue to chase short-term profits above our children’s basic human rights to live on this earth?

“Change cannot come in 2050, or 2030, or even 2025. The change must come today. We can no longer afford the luxury of half-assing it as we willingly force ourselves beyond the threshold of no return,” Momoa added.

Fijian Prime Minister Hon Frank Bainimarama also spoke at the event and highlighted again his call for direct grants to countries in need to help SIDS better respond to disasters or build resilience.


Note: Iliesa Tora’s presence at the UN Climate Summit has been funded by the UH-OHRLLS/Island Voices and the Forum Secretariat (PIFS)


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