“Yumi on Nomo”: Pacific Island Youth Leaders Push Onwards

This past summer, the United Nations gave out 100 Green Tickets for its first-ever summit centered on youth climate activism (so like Willy Wonka – but instead of winning the chocolate at the end, you get to save the planet!).


Robin Happel (UNA-NY) represented UNA-USA at the UN Youth Climate Action Summit in September.


While Green Ticket holders hail from all corners of the world, it was particularly inspiring to me to meet students from Pacific Island nations, who have led the charge for their countries to be at the bargaining table. For students from countries like the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, failure truly is not an option. When the ocean rises, they rise with it.

Although many of us at the Youth Summit chose to skip school the day before for the Global Strike, missing school isn’t always a choice. Timoci Naulusala of Fiji, a fourteen-year-old UNICEF Youth Advocate, spoke poignantly of how his school was destroyed by a cyclone, and still hasn’t been fully rebuilt. “For those of us who live in island nations, we are already seeing and feeling and living the consequences of a warming planet. But I am not alone.”

Throughout Climate Week, Pacific Island diplomats and delegates have made their voices heard. Melati Wijsen, founder of Bye Bye Plastic Bags, gave an inspiring account of nature-based solutions in her home country of Indonesia. Pita Taufatofua, an Olympic athlete from Tonga, spoke powerfully of the storm that wiped out half his home country in a single night. And Solomon Yeo, president of Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change, led a dedicated Green Ticket delegation to campaign for the rights of future generations under international law.

This summit was Solomon’s first time in New York, and I’m ashamed to say that somehow he already understands the transit system better than I do. When he isn’t showing me a map of the city I live in, however, Solomon is also a leader in the I Am Climate Justice campaign. Ultimately, his goal is to put a youth climate case in front of the UN’s principal court. “We need to place human rights in the center of the climate change debate and one of the feasible ways forward is to take climate change to the International Court of Justice,” he told me. “Let us hear what the highest court in the world has to say on the biggest problem today.”

The work of the UN is often abstract, and it’s easy to lose yourself in the complexity. But, standing in the sun on the UN plaza, it all feels very real. Half a world away, students from PISFCC are striking in Vanuatu. Today, it is already tomorrow there, and that tomorrow gives me hope.

It is up to all of us to keep pushing forward, in whatever form that takes. Whether you give up plastic bags, join the Fridays for Future strikes, or stand in solidarity with students like Solomon, each of us can do something. In the words of the UN Secretary-General, “You are on the right side of history. Keep pushing us to do the right thing.”