UOW student, Moemoana Schwenke, travels to Glasgow with a strong climate message from the Pacific Island nations
“My name is Moemoana Schwenke. Moemoana means ‘calm ocean’. I am here, at COP26, for the Pacific Islands, and for Samoa. In these places, the land, the ocean and the people have a heartbeat. They are like my roots that firmly ground my identity.”
“Yet now, this calm ocean is angry. It is violent, washing over lands that carry culture, washing over my ancestors’ burial grounds with the chance and fear of my people becoming climate refugees.”
This is the message that Moemoana, a young student at the University of Wollongong (UOW), has carried over to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, where the global world leaders and climate activists come together to discuss and agree on urgent climate action.
Born in Samoa and raised in New Zealand and Australia, Moemoana Schwenke is only 21 years old. At UOW, she pursues a double degree in Indigenous Studies and Environmental Humanities alongside Communications and Media.
She may be only 21, but since she was 14, she has been a fierce climate warrior, seeing how her beloved island of Samoa has suffered from the immediate effects of climate change. Many Pacific Island nations have seen accelerated sea level rises, longer and more intense heatwaves, exacerbated natural disasters like floods and cyclones and progressing coastal erosion. For them, it’s not climate change but a climate emergency.
In Glasgow, along with other Pacific Islands’ youth representatives and their organisation, The Pacific Climate Warriors, Moemoana will represent Samoa, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Kiribati, Tonga, Fiji, Hawaii and 20,000 other islands of the Pacific Ocean. Even though they are the least responsible for the climate crisis, Pacific countries are at the frontline of the impacts of climate change.
Moemoana says that the region has a unique moral authority to act.
“When big corporations, governments and world leaders are not fully committing to reducing fossil fuels and don’t want to shift to 100 per cent renewable energy – who can we look to? I believe the most authentic, impactful and empowering climate leadership comes from our Indigenous people of the world.”
“We know that the solution to this climate crisis lies in the Indigenous knowledges. We have protected these lands for centuries. Now, there is no time to lose. We need to move financial flows away from fossil fuels,” the UOW student added.
The Pacific Climate Warriors (acting on behalf of 350.org) write in their statement: “Every morning, we wake up and the ocean is there, surrounding our island. But now, driven by climate change, the ocean is creeping ever closer. Unless something changes, many of our Pacific Islands face losing everything to sea level rise.”
The organisation’s plan for COP26 is very concrete. First, they want to amplify the voices of the frontline Pacific communities, especially the youth. They also call for more Indigenous people to be present at the decision-making tables. They believe that COP26 presents an open arena to talk about funding. One of their pleas is to defund fossil fuels. Another – to fund a smooth transition into climate action by increasing climate finance, especially for many smaller organisations like their own.
Moemoana’s personal mission for the conference is to popularise the Pacific Islands’ culture in the world arena.
“My parents own a cultural centre in Western Sydney. I was active there from a very young age, learning about Pacific cultural arts, and now I teach what I know to the Pacific youth. I am a fire dancer, and this Samoan cultural art is called siva afi. It is performed with a single hook-shaped weapon, nifo oti. So, it was my culture that taught me to be a warrior,” Moemona explained.