The Pacific Island nations are among the most vulnerable to climate change impacts, despite contributing less than 0.03% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Rising sea levels, increased intensity and frequency of natural disasters, food and water insecurity, and the loss of land and cultural heritage are some of the challenges faced by these communities.
In the face of the impending climate crisis, a group of young activists from the Pacific Island states have decided to take a stand. They call themselves the Pacific Climate Warriors, a grassroots movement linked to the global environmental organization, 350.org. Their mission? To peacefully raise awareness of their communities' vulnerability to climate change, showcase the strength and resilience of their people, and resist the fossil fuel industry whose activities are damaging their environment.
The Pacific Climate Warriors network spans across 18 Pacific Island nations and diaspora communities in the United States, New Zealand, and Australia. This vibrant group of young champions is committed to protecting their islands, cultures, and livelihoods, and demanding international action and accountability from the major greenhouse gas polluters.
Their slogan: "We are not drowning. We are fighting," encapsulates their resolve to actively resist the narrative of inevitable victimhood. As Brianna Fruean, a Samoan warrior, puts it, "We're not victims, we're champions."
One of the Warriors’ most notable campaigns took place in Australia in October 2014. In an act of civil disobedience, they paddled out in traditional canoes and kayaks, creating a blockade in Newcastle, the world's largest coal port. Alongside hundreds of Australian locals, they prevented coal ships from entering and leaving the port. The canoes were built on Pacific islands using time-honoured techniques and shipped to Australia. Women wove the sails while men constructed the hulls - collaborative work reflecting feminine and masculine strengths. A female Warrior led pre-blockade prayers, invoking their shared heritage. This action symbolized their fight against the fossil fuel industry and their demand for companies and countries with high greenhouse gas emissions to take responsibility for their climate-damaging actions.
The Warriors utilize diverse tactics, from paddling out in protest flotillas to testifying at UN climate summits. Creativity and culture are central to their advocacy. The Warriors incorporate traditional song, dance, sailing, and storytelling to share their message. Their actions are guided by Pacific cultural values like community, resilience, and respect for the environment.
"Frontline communities like us have expertise about what's happening. Indigenous knowledge is climate science," notes Brianna Fruean. The Warriors share eye-opening 'Frontline Truths', a storytelling series, to counter perceptions of Pacific peoples as helpless victims awaiting salvation.
Climate change permeates daily life for Pacific youth. "It's a privilege to choose to be an activist here. We have to do this work to serve our communities," Mariner emphasizes. Whether studying environmental science or rebuilding after storms, young Islanders are stepping up out of necessity and love for their homelands.
The Warriors' journey has not been easy. Daunting projections of future climate impacts can take a toll on mental health. "But we are determined to keep fighting," declares Jobod Silk, a 22-year-old from the Marshall Islands. Their unified spirit buoys them forward.
At recent UN climate talks, the Warriors advocated for urgent fossil fuel phase-outs and support for vulnerable nations. They also presented the 'Pacific Power Up Declaration' calling for 100% renewable energy across the region.
"We need climate action that gives access to all, cares for our lands and seas, and respects Pacific values," says 20-year-old Fijian Sera Saini. The Warriors' vision spotlights inclusive solutions.
In recognition of their peaceful and persistent efforts, the Pacific Climate Warriors were awarded the 2020 Pax Christi International Peace Award. This accolade honours contemporary individuals and organizations making a stand for peace, justice, and nonviolence in various parts of the world.
The Warriors' actions have not just won them awards but have also inspired other climate activists. The Pacific Climate Warriors’ campaign in Australia was considered the second most important sustainability campaign of 2014 globally and was described as 'the David versus Goliath campaign of the year'.
In the face of an unprecedented climate crisis, the Pacific Climate Warriors choose not to drown, but to fight. They represent a beacon of hope, a symbol of resilience, and a testament to the power of grassroots activism. Their fight goes beyond just protecting their islands—it’s a fight for justice, for accountability, and for the future of our planet. Their courage and creativity in the face of climate threats inspire youth worldwide to stand up for justice.