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COP25 – ‘We are dying’: Island youth demand action from rich countries to meet scale of climate emergency

By Desmond Brown

MADRID – Young people from the Caribbean and the Pacific on Friday demanded that major emitters and rich countries do more to meet the scale of the climate emergency, saying people are dying because of climate change.

Four young people from Aruba, Grenada, Haiti and Samoa made the call for action during an Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) news conference at the COP25 climate talks in Madrid.

“Climate change is a serious matter, it’s not a laughing matter. We need to take action, we need to act now because people are dying, we are dying,” said Jimmy Fénelon, the National Coordinator of Caribbean Youth Environmental Network (CYEN) in Haiti.

“I’ve had typhoid. I’ve had malaria. My grandmother died from cholera. I know what I’m talking about.”

Fénelon said the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) all share the same issues, and are having the same problems.

“Maybe many of you heard about Haiti. We are one of the poorest countries … and we are facing climate change,” he said.

“I am facing climate change, I am living it, I can talk about it. I am facing rising [sea] levels. I am facing deadly hurricanes … We need to act.”

For Renae Baptiste, Vice President for the CYEN Grenada chapter, climate change is not a concept or a theory. Instead, she said it is the new reality for the people of her island nation.

She believes the present generation is the last that can help end climate change.

“Climate change is affecting our lives, our coastal communities, our ecosystems and even our economies,” Baptiste said.

“We are experiencing stronger storms, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and these are escalating, posing even greater threats and risks to our lives.

“Step up, do your part, no matter the action you’re doing, in the end it all adds up and has a great impact,” Baptiste added.

Miguel van der Velden, also with CYEN in Aruba, said like other countries in the Caribbean, his island is heavily dependent on tourism.

But he said in recent times, Aruba has been experiencing severe drought and is frequently affected by dangerous hurricanes.

“These things are not games. They’re getting worse. They’re affecting millions of people around the world,” said van der Velden.

“I come here not because I’m scared. I’m scared, but I come here because I have hope that we can work together. We don’t have anything to lose if we work together. If anything, we can create a much more beautiful world.

“On Aruba, we say come to our beautiful island; to live a good life. All of our islands are beautiful islands and we all want to live a good life.”

Brianna Fruean, with 350 Samoa and the Pacific Climate Warriors, said: “World leaders need to know that people like me are watching them. The text we put down today on paper at COP is what our future will look like.”

Meanwhile, Ambassador Janine Felson, Deputy Permanent Representative of Belize to the United Nations and AOSIS deputy chair, assured the youth they are not alone in their quest.

“AOSIS stands in solidarity with you. We fully affirm your just demand for a prosperous future in your homelands and we are fighting to ensure that by holding developed countries and ourselves accountable, we can sustain the course for a 1.5° world,” Felson said.

“Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what label you put on us, what matters is that we represent the very people I have next to me, we represent the youth.”

Felson also highlighted island leadership inside and outside the UN Climate process and the need to work with young people to build the political pressure necessary for change.

“We’ve also resolved to move to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030,” she said.

“We’re looking to build climate resilient infrastructure. We’re looking at nature-based solutions. We’re exploring every avenue possible. Because we do not want to leave our homes, we don’t want to put our children in a position where they will have to leave their homes.”

AOSIS consists of 45 island countries who ban together and have been a consistent voice for climate action.

AOSIS has been calling for increased emissions reductions at COP25, as well as action to compensate small island nations and other vulnerable countries for the loss and damage they are already experiencing from climate impacts.

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