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On the frontline of the climate crisis in Marshall Islands

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Photo: Michael Rubinstein/Earth Justice

Litokne Kabua, a young climate activist from the Marshall Islands, highlights the experience of small island communities living with the impacts of climate change. He implores world leaders to take action before it is too late.

This blog is the tenth in our intergenerational series "It will take all of us: never too young to lead on the climate crisis" and features an introduction by Hina Jilani:

“The Marshall Islands are one of most climate vulnerable places on Earth, Litokne’s moving account reminds us all that for so many the climate crisis is not a distant threat. Nor is the climate crisis just an environmental issue, it is inseparable from issues of human rights and justice - climate change is already destroying lives. I admire the resolute spirit and the determination of the young people taking climate action in places like the Marshall Islands: they encourage us all to keep going. We have a tremendous opportunity to do what is right, to do what we have failed to do in the past.”

The Marshall Islands are very small, but we are facing one of the greatest threats - we are here on the very frontline of climate change. I believe that world leaders need to listen to the voices of young people from small island communities when we speak about climate change, because we already experience its effects. We are telling the truth. We may not have statistics, but we have our own eyes. We see the changes that are affecting our lives. Every day we wake, we walk outside, and the ocean is there in front of us. 

Climate change matters to me personally, because climate change is already personal. It is already changing the way I live. Climate change is already taking away what is very precious to me – my very small islands. My islands consist of 29 atolls and 5 single islands.  Each and every island and atoll is only about 7ft above sea level which means we are at risk of climate change destroying our small island culture that features our ways of navigation, our ways of fishing, our legends and our stories that have been passed down from our ancestors.

The Marshall Islands are impacted in many ways by climate change. Our corals are bleached and this is one of the main reasons our fishes are dying. A warming ocean causes thermal stress that contributes to coral bleaching. With fishes dying our eating habits will also change. That is not a good way for us to experience our lives. In the Marshall Islands we also feel the sun getting hotter – every year, every month, even every week. The sun is feeling hotter and this heat is giving us many problems. Drought is playing a huge role in causing problems on our islands. Droughts mean water scarcity. There was a severe drought a few years ago in the northern islands that resulted in this sort of water scarcity, it left people in desperate need of water, it was a very sad moment for our islands. We also experience sea levels rising, much more than before, and there are frequent storms and strong winds taking place here in the Marshall Islands –which is why we feel as though we are very much at the frontline of the climate crisis.

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A challenge for me being a young climate activist in the Marshall Islands is that I am one of only a few young climate activists here, it feels as though I bear a lot of responsibility as not many people believe in taking on climate action as an issue. As a young climate activist people are looking up to me and expecting me to take on the responsibility for all of them. On a practical level, another challenge is simply that I am still attending school! I am in 10th grade, with two more years of my education to go, so I have to manage my time so I can balance my time in education while also still doing what I can to take climate action. 

At home in the Marshall Islands I have been taking steps of my own in my community. In Ebeye, the island I live on, I am reaching out to the local schools to share my passion for taking climate action. In each school I get to speak about my experiences and I tell most of my young peers here why they should stand up for climate action. Climate action in the Marshall Islands might seem to play a very small role, but I tell them it is still important what we do. For example we do island clean-ups, where we clean up the trash around the island and in the ocean too. We also spread awareness, we go to each house and we tell them about what climate action should look like and why they should take action in their own communities. I was also able to participate on the global stage by participating in the mass demonstration that was held last year in September. I was one of the people who marched in the streets of New York calling for world leaders to act more seriously on climate change.

I think that the voices of our small island communities are not listened to enough. Maybe it is because big countries or world leaders of large countries across the world think we are useless because we are very small? Maybe they think we are too small to listen to? Yet, it is us who are on the frontline of climate change. 

People should continue to fight for climate action as climate change is not stopping. Its effects are increasing every day. Climate change will play a big role in destroying the future of our children, all of our children, and the children of future generations.  If we take action today, while climate change will not go away it could still reduce to a significant level allowing us to live and prosper, we could still live a sustainable life. 

Litokne Kabua is young climate activist from the Marshall Islands. Litokne's family have always lived on Ebeye Island. His home is a two minute walk to the ocean, and he grew up respecting the ocean’s central role in his life and community. Litokne’s family has relied on the ocean to provide a source of food through fishing, and to connect them to members of their family living on the Marshall Islands’ outer, more remote, islands. The climate crisis is threatening the way of life of the Marshallese people. Litokne knows that his home and islands will not last forever and are under an impending threat from sea level rise.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation

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