Op Ed Brianna ‘Bibi’ Fruean, Samoa Climate Warrior
In 2012, when Tropical Cyclone Evan hit Samoa, all the men were at work and it was the young mothers at home with their younglings. These women were the first responders of the devastation that lay in the aftermath of the Category 4 Tropical Cyclone (sustaining wind speeds of between 157-200 kilometres per hour). We were left to pick up the pieces after 7,500 people were displaced, 600 homes destroyed, 14 of my fellow Samoans killed and the total economic damages & production losses were estimated to exceed US$210 million, equivalent to about 30% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2011. Tropical Cyclone Evan was the glaring warning sign that climate change was on the shores of my beautiful Samoa.
We are a fiercely proud country that is deeply rooted in our culture, heritage and religion. I am a proud Pacific Climate Warrior who is journeying to COP23 to take the stories of my people to the drivers of climate change to show them we are suffering because of their actions.
The Samoan Islands are an archipelago covering 3,030 km2 (1,170 sq mi) in the central Pacific Ocean (13 degrees south and 172 degrees west), forming part of Polynesia and the wider region of Oceania. We have a population of approximately 195,000. We are small and remote. Our population and infrastructure is concentrated to low lying coastal areas. We are struggling with the impacts of a warming planet; we have more frequent and intense tropical storms, sea-level rise and significant variability in rainfall.
In my short lifetime of 19 years, I have witnessed the fish in my local market diminish in variety. Fish that lay fresh on coconut leaves at the local fish market on a Saturday when I was 5 years old can no longer be found in the markets a short 14 years later. Again the glaring warning signs are flashing, telling me that climate change is real for my Samoa.
Our women who go out to the sea will tell you that the ‘kuikui’ (sea urchin) or ‘fugafuga’ (parrot fish), which were once abundant, are now harder to find because our once vibrant coral is now turning white because of the warm waters. Again the glaring warning signs are telling me climate change is impacting the livelihood of our women.
Solosolo, a village on the northeast coast of Upolu island in Samoa has now relocated 60% of its population to higher ground because the sea level is rising. When they dig the earth for graves, seawater rises. Our ancestors’ bones will submerge with the sea. Again the glaring warning signs are telling me that climate change is claiming my culture and heritage.
I have seen climate change throughout my childhood, which is why I stand with a group of fierce Pacific Climate Warriors representing various grassroots, frontline and indigenous communities from across the Pacific.
Together we are at COP23 to deliver the Pacific Warriors Declaration on Climate Change at the end of the weeklong discussions and negotiations. We are fighting for the following:
// End the era of fossil fuels and move to 100% renewable energy.
// Support the immediate delivery of finance needed for countries already facing irreversible loss and damage.
// Kick the big polluters out of the climate talks.
// Do what is needed to limit warming to 1.5°C.
I was at COP21 in Paris and I witnessed the small island nation of Marshall Islands stand their ground with their large delegation and fight for climate justice. I hold hope because this is the ‘Pacific’ COP with Fiji being the first Pacific nation to hold the presidency. The Pacific Climate warriors are here to amplify and strengthen the climate leadership coming from Fiji and the Pacific, and I am hopeful that our stories will bring the change we need to save our islands.
Brianna joined 350 Samoa in 2009 and has worked on several campaigns including 10/10/10, moving planet, connect the dots and pray for the Pacific. She was motivated to become a Climate Warrior because she grew up on an ‘island paradise like Samoa...and the threat climate change puts on our homes is something even as a young girl I knew I couldn’t keep quiet about’.
On Wednesday, Pacific Islanders and thousands of people from across the world took action in the Rhineland coalfields, to demand an immediate end of fossil fuels. As thousands of people blocked the open-pit lignite mine Hambach, the “Pacific Climate Warriors” stood in solidarity with people impacted by and resisting the coal industry in Germany.
“Germany’s lignite mines are among the biggest coal mines in the world. If we don’t shut them down, we have no chance as Pacific Islanders. We’re here to protect our land, our culture and our identities as Pacific people,” said Zane Sikulu, Climate Warrior from Tonga.
Representing various grassroots, frontline and indigenous communities from across the Pacific, the Pacific Climate Warriors held a traditional ceremony in the deserted village of Manheim near the mine.
“Today, people from the Pacific, Germany and all over the world have come together as an internationally united climate justice movement to demand the end of fossil fuels now. In the Pacific we feel the impacts of climate change already and eventually it’s going to affect everyone on this planet. We’re all different people but it’s one struggle,” said Brianna Fruean, Climate Warrior from Samoa.
The Pacific Climate Warriors demand an end to the age of fossil fuels overall and an immediate transition to renewable energy that is just and fair. The Rhineland coalfields are Europe’s biggest source of CO2 and a mere 50 km from Bonn, where the UN Climate Talks presided over by Fiji are set to begin tomorrow. The Pacific Climate Warriors will be in Bonn throughout the Climate Talks. On Wednesday, they will put forward their demands set out in the Pacific Climate Warriors Declaration on Climate Change.
Photos courtesy 350.org
IMG 1-7, 9, 10: The Pacific Climate Warriors hold a ceremonial ritual in solidarity with the people of Kerpen-Manheim. The German village, now stands almost completely abandoned due to the relentless expansion of the coal mine. 5th November 2017.
IMG 8: Pacific Climate Warriors at the 13th Conference of Youth.
IMG 11: Brianna Fruen of Samoa delivers her address at the 13th Conference of Youth.