Two storm-scarred lives cross paths in climate change fight

by Litia Baleilevuka and Jennifer Morgan | Greenpeace International
Thursday, 13 December 2018 10:32 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Fijian fisherman rows across the harbour in front of Fiji's capital city Suva as a storm approaches in December 2006. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

For someone at climate talks for the first time and another who has been 24 times, it is clear not enough is being done

Jennifer Morgan is the executive director at Greenpeace International and Litia Baleilevuka is an activist with Pacific Island Represent.

We are from different generations, from different parts of the world - but both our journeys have brought us to the U.N. climate talks in Katowice, Poland.

I am Jennifer Morgan, currently the executive director of Greenpeace International, and this is my 24th climate summit (known as the COP, Conference of the Parties). I’ve attended every COP since the first one was held in Berlin in 1995.

 And I am Litia Baleilevuka, a 21-year-old “Pacific Island Represent!” activist from Fiji, attending my first COP. We offer our stories together.

 We both read the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in October, which laid the science bare. We now know, unequivocally, that we have just 12 years left to save Earth’s climate.

Those gathered in Katowice must commit to ramping up climate action and putting the Paris Agreement to work, because only through fast, bold action can we change the course of history. 

Leaders and ministers at COP24 are faced with a climate emergency. But they are also the last generation who still have the time to act.

Despite this, divisions continue to stall progress in Katowice. We’ve seen a clear attack on climate science, amid efforts to remove any reference to the IPCC report, and disagreement over whether to “note” or “welcome” the most important and unique climate science report we’ve ever had.

But climate change is more than a battle of words - it’s a fight for our survival. 

Outside the COP24 walls, people around the world are calling for leaders to step up and act. Both of us have vastly different lives and perspectives, but we’ve seen with our own eyes what is happening outside these walls. We have both had special places destroyed, flattened by our changing climate.

Cyclone Winston in Litia’s words

In Fiji, my mother’s village Nasau on Koro Island felt like a peaceful, safe place - somewhere we used to visit as a family during the holidays. When we heard Cyclone Winston was racing across the water in 2016, we didn’t panic. We had all been through such storms before.

My brother and I felt safe in Suva and thought our mum’s village would be safe too, but Cyclone Winston hit with a force we had never experienced. It blew away houses as if they were made of Lego. It uprooted trees that had stood for decades.

All lines of communication went down - no phones, no internet - and three days passed before we could reconnect with the world. It was only then that I found out my mother’s village had been destroyed. Not a single home was left standing.

Across the country, 44 people lost their lives, and thousands were left homeless. Almost three years later we are still rebuilding. My mum’s house has only just been rebuilt.

Hurricane Sandy in Jennifer’s words

On the other side of the world, in the United States, and many years before, I would holiday on an island on the Jersey Shore on the U.S. east coast with my family. Long Beach Island was a fragile, special and privileged place that also felt - to me - very safe. The ocean sat on one side, the bay on the other. It was gentle yet lively.

The last time I went back was in 2013, after Hurricane Sandy had smashed into the east coast. The strongest hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic season had raged through the area and reset the island. Places and people had vanished, houses were boarded up.

It was shocking to see how it had changed, and how much it differed from my memories. It brought to mind the many people who have to suffer through this devastation, but have nowhere else to go ... I thought of people like Litia.

One story

And now, we are here together at COP24, talking as one.

Irrespective of who we are, or where we’re from, we rebuild, we adapt and we fight. That gives us courage. But it is not enough. Those who are responsible for this crisis must be forced to act.

While politics stalls over language, sea levels continue to rise, cyclones and hurricanes become stronger, and the threat from heatwaves, drought and wildfires grows.

There is not enough time for 24 more climate conferences. We have to act now, for all of us.