Pacific Island Youth Tackle Climate Change

By Joe Lowry in the Marshall Islands
The  Majuro Protocol for the Survival of humankind has been signed! Countries have agreed to work together to meet the challenges of climate change, lower emissions, fund adaptation and meet half their energy needs with renewable energy by 2050.

This isn’t breaking news on CNN, but it may mark a hopeful note for the future. For the signatories of the (non-binding) protocol were students of high schools, at the first Model United Nations simulation ever held in the Marshall Islands.

The event was co-organised by IOM and the University of the South Pacific and designed to replicate the actual post Kyoto-protocol scenario. It got the teenagers to research issues relevant to climate change in nations as diverse as the USA, Tonga, Japan, Fiji, Australia, Kiribati, New Zealand, Micronesia. 

Wild applause greeted the decision of representatives of the USA and Japan to sign the mock protocol, with only Vanuatu holding out, saying it could not afford to join the process just now. 

The students plunged enthusiastically into their roles, donning national dress and learning phrases from the languages of the countries they were representing in the simulation. The event was held, coincidentally, as officials from across the region met in Fiji for the joint Pacific Platform for Disaster Risk Management and the Pacific Climate Change Roundtable. 

IOM’s involvement in the Marshalls Model UN stemmed from the regional CADRE programme (Climate Adaptation, Disaster Risk Reduction, and Education) funded by AusAid. Programme Officer Kate McDermott noted that the model UN event was very much in line with the aims of the programme: to promote resilience among schools and communities. “These are the future leaders who may one day be conducting negotiations on climate change and other issues of concern to the region."
Meanwhile Tamara Greenstone-Alefaio from the University of the South Pacific was pleased with her young charges, who put together the high quality mock debate in two weeks. “They met government ministers and other officials who helped them from their opinions and arguments,” she said. “This helped them research the history, economy and environment debate across the region."

Student Lulani Ritok (18) from Majuro said she learned a lot preparing for the simulation. Her country has called for greater emphasis on mitigation to stem the effects of climate change on her low-lying island home.

“We had a lot of fun preparing but we also learnt about mitigation measures like how mangroves can prevent coastal erosion,” she said. “There are options. This is my home. I was born here and I want to die here.”

The question of “environmental migration” has been a hot topic since 1990, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared that the greatest single consequence of climate change could be migration, with millions of people displaced by shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and severe drought.         

IOM strives to ensure adequate assistance to and protection of people affected by climate change, including people on the move as a result of environmental factors. It also works to ensure that migration is recognized and used as one possible adaptation strategy.        

The Model UN was part of a science camp on climate change funded by the  Alliance for Sustainable Partnerships and Initiatives in Renewable Energy (ASPIRE) from the Marshall Islands Ministry of Research and Development. 


Joe Lowry is a senior media and communications officer for IOM