Maryann Puia on the impacts of climate change on women, culture and tradition in the Pacific

Maryann Songomano Tautu’a Puia is a member and the former Awareness Person for the Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change. One of their campaigns is to seek an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice on human rights and climate change. She is also the UN Women National Gender Youth Activist for Solomon Islands. In 2019, she attended COP25 as a Pacific Island Represent and participated in panel discussions. 

My name is Maryann Tautua Songomano Puia. I am a recent graduate from the University of the South Pacific, and I am a climate change and gender youth activist.

My climate change activism started in 2019 when I was studying law at the USP Emalus Campus in Port Vila, Vanuatu. I’ve always been aware of what climate change is, growing up in the South Pacific; you cannot ignore the impacts of climate change even if you want to. The sea level rise, the reduction in fish population and other marine life that is constantly hitting news or the over harvesting of undersized fishes, the increase in cyclones and their intensity, all of which point towards climate change.

Then I attended a panel discussion that was held by the Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change (PISFCC) at Emalus Campus, a student organization with collective minds and a common purpose, to fight for their islands against climate change. Amongst all the motivational speakers, one speaker stood out to me more than the others. She spoke about the impact of climate change on food security and how this was making life altering changes for women and children in rural areas. Knowing how climate change was having a direct impact on these minority groups who did not have the resources, information and knowledge on how to deal with this threat, pushed me towards joining the PISFCC.

As mentioned, one of the impacts is on food security. Increase of child marriage is another impact. Why? Because when families lose their properties and source of income from cyclones, floods, or tsunami, they find it harder to provide for their children and themselves, bringing the idea of early marriage. For some families, this might be the only available choice to ensure their children survive. Climate change can also affect the education of young people by causing physical barriers to reach school. For instance, Selwyn College in the western part of Solomon Islands is prone to flooding and has, in the past years experienced serve flooding, causing the school to postpone classes.

One of the main issues I raised at COP25 was how COP25 was resulting in high electricity, water, fuel and gas consumption because of the influx of people to one place. The suggestion was the possibility of digitalizing climate change summits and the possibility of hosting other regional or localised conferences in the future. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to resort to online meetings in preparation for COP26 and possibly, at the rate of this pandemic crisis, hosting COP26 online as well.

However, hosting COP26 online might result in developing countries, like Solomon Islands being outmanoeuvred by the big state countries. There is also the fear that we may not have the infrastructures capable of holding reliable online meetings. These are some issues that would need to be address if COP26 is decided to be held as an online event.

One of the most effective tool young people can use to combat climate change is youth education - learning how to address the destructive impacts of climate change and cultivate an understanding in the members of our next generation.

Young people are also great influencers and adaptable, we are well placed throughout our societies, and when we are well educated and informed on climate change, we can make low carbon lifestyle and career decisions as part of our daily lives. This is why it is very important young people are given the opportunity to participate in decision making in all levels because we can also actively support those decisions that can lead to legislative changes. Young people play an important role in fighting the social quandaries brought about by climate change.

Meaningful engagement for me should result in youth inputs, women inputs and other minority groups’ input reflected in decisions made and policies passed.

One of our campaigns under the Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change Organization is to call on Pacific Islands’ leaders to seek an Advisory Opinion on human rights and climate change from the highest court in the world, the International Court of Justice. Young people have the advantage in number and their ability to influence decision makers; therefore we call on all young people across the Pacific and the world, to join us in calling for an Advisory Opinion from the ICJ.