A group of young leaders from states on the front line of climate change and marine degradation joined Peace Boat's 95th Global Voyage in Barcelona on September 22 as a part of a new programme to highlight these crucial issues and build momentum for climate action and the Bonn 2017 UN Climate Change Conference (COP23). These young women and men between 19 and 26 years of age are from the regions of the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean and Caribbean. In the next three weeks, they will visit Lisbon (Sep 25), Bordeaux (Sep 28), London (Oct 1), Edinburgh (Oct 3), Reykjavik (Oct 7) and New York (Oct 15). In every port, they will connect with civil society organizations and government agencies bringing their message to citizens and government representatives through the voyage. The participants are Kya Lal (Fiji); Selina Leem (Marshall Islands); Matea Nauto (Kiribati); Ashwa Faheem (Maldives); Shafira Charlette (Seychelles); La Tisha Parkinson (Trinidad and Tobago); and Zana Kristen Wade (Belize). All of them have diverse backgrounds in science, campaigning, public policy, civil society, grassroots and international activism.
The Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador Programme is an endorsed event of the COP23 in line with Fiji's vision for the COP23, as recognized by the COP23 Presidency Secretariat. Peace Boat is proud to fly the flag with the official logo of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in conjunction with the COP23 logo on the mast of its ship from Barcelona, where the Youth Ambassadors will begin their voyage. It is the official emblem of the 23rd annual Conference of Parties (COP23) that will take place in Bonn, Germany from November 6 to 17. Peace Boat is a campaigner for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its vessel sails with the Global Goals logo on the side of the hull. The programme will connect the sustainable development agenda with COP23.
The programme started with a full day of activities in Barcelona. An awareness raising event was held onboard the ship in collaboration with the government of Catalonia, civil society representatives and local schools. Peace Boat International Coordinator, Chema Sarri, introduced the programme explaining the importance of people hearing the reality of climate change from those who are experiencing it on the ground. The Minister of Territory and Sustainability of the Catalan Government, Josep Rull, spoke at the event about efforts made by the government to mitigate climate change. Last July, the parliament of Catalonia passed the ‘Climate Change Bill', a law that will strengthen the region's climate efforts.
Enrique Segovia of the World Wildlife Fund Spain shared the current overall situation in relation to climate change and the perspective of civil society organisations working on the issue. Each of the representatives from the small islands spoke about the situation on the front line of climate change. Selina Leem of the Marshall Islands said that elders in her community spent their childhoods on beaches that had now disappeared. Matea Nauto, from Kiribati, spoke about how people from his country are trying to prepare to evacuate their homeland with dignity and without fear. Kya Lal, who is an environmental lawyer, spoke about the impact of climate change on her country Fiji, which has played an important international role as President this year of both the Ocean Conference in June and COP23 in November. Highlighting the importance of Fiji's advocacy, she said that "as President of COP23, Fiji was the first SIDS to hold this role to lead negotiations and ensure that a tangible outcome was achieved for the post 2020 climate regime".
The event was at full capacity and attended by many government and civil society representatives. One hundred and fifty school students attended from 15 schools in the area. It was an excellent opportunity to engage in "Talanoa," as outlined in Fiji's Vision for COP23. The students were well prepared with questions to ask the representatives of the small islands about their communities, the realities they were facing and what could be done to encourage open and frank discussions about the issues and the roles of different stakeholders. Shafira Charlette stressed the importance of youth in solving the issue, commenting "We are the future, the planet is in our hands".
Following the event onboard, the group of activists travelled to The Beach Centre, located under the Somorrostro Beach arches in front of the Hospital del Mar. It is an information, meeting and training centre for anyone with an interest in the Barcelona coastline and related topics. The centre organizes exhibitions, workshops, tours, storytelling, visits, entertainment, talks and games, and runs a coastline information service, loaning out newspapers, books, magazines, beach games, sports equipment and more. There the Youth Ambassadors spoke with the team responsible for the activities, particularly about the project "Observadors del Mar" (The Sea Observers) and took part in an activity to learn about the impact of microplastics and marine pollution in the Mediterranean Sea. One of the purposes of the programme is to highlight the connections between climate change and the health of the oceans. Marine pollution is having a severe impact on the oceans' ability to mitigate the very worst impacts of carbon emissions. The event was well reported in local and national press and television. The group are now sailing to Lisbon, where they will join scientists, government representatives, and researchers at an event at the Pavilion of Knowledge, organized by Ciencia Viva on Monday September 25.