David Tong: Small islands and big steps

This is a guest post from Institute co-founder and P3 Foundation Chair David Tong.  After popping in on the SIDS 2014 delegation's training weekend, he asked if he could write a few words of congratulations.

Tomorrow, the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Conference starts.  As an activist for climate action and sustainable development, I am excited that the Aotearoa Youth Leadership Institute has sent seven awesome young New Zealanders to be there.

SIDS 2014 is important. It is only the third SIDS conference ever, and is the first of three very different but very important climate summits this year.  Two weeks later, world leaders will meet at the Ban Ki Moon Summit in New York. Then, two months later, we will have the Lima talks - the last UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties before the world is supposed to agree a new climate accord in Paris next year (and the Institute will be sending a team – keep an eye out, because I’m told applications open soon!).

 There are a few reasons why SIDS are especially important to me when it comes to climate change. The first is practical: small island developing states are the first and worst hit by climate change. Pacific island nations face “an existential threat” from climate change:

"Already the signs are there that climate change is an existential threat. If they are disregarding that now, I wonder whether using this as a tactic will draw international attention. It will be a bit of sensationalism, but in the long term I really do wonder whether it can be used as a tactic,” – Marlene Moses
Tony de Brum

Tony de Brum

My other reasons are personal. I have been privileged to meet some of the incredible diplomats who speak on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable nations. Last year, I spent a day tracking Marshall Islands’ Minister Tony de Brum for Adopt a Negotiator.  The Minister is the man behind the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership, which demands urgent action on climate change – and which speaks with a Pacific voice. Before that, at the 2011 climate talks, I was lucky enough to be invited into a closed door briefing from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). Both these experiences have shaped me, but both have also shamed me as a New Zealander.  Why is it that we have signed the Majuro Declaration, but still call for almost pure voluntarism in the 2015 climate agreement? And why was it that AOSIS identified us as one of the four most problematic nations in the talks, with one negotiator alleging that we were driving Kyoto Protocol negotiators “down to the lowest level of ambition and the lowest level of cooperation”? We are a Pacific nation, and I believe we owe our Pacific neighbours a duty of care and concern.

Just as these experiences have strengthened and challenged me, I know SIDS 2014 will have a huge effect on the seven delegates’ lives. The Institute is apolitical, and they're a varied bunch, so I know they won't take the same things from SIDS as I have from my experiences (which is as it should be!).

The SIDS 2014 delegates

The SIDS 2014 delegates

This is the first delegation of the Institute’s second year, and it’s incredible that it is to a confidence that only happens once a decade – and that, this year, is right on our doorstep.

In 2012, Sam Johnson and I co-founded the Institute because we both wanted to give other young New Zealanders opportunities like the ones we had both had.  Since early 2013, I have sat back from a distance, as P3 Foundation Chair, watching Rachel's small, committed team make impressive things happen.

I did not choose to send a delegation to SIDS let alone review the applicants’ CVs or select them. All I can say is that I am humbled by the extraordinary calibre of the seven people we are sending. To me, it is humbling to have been part of creating something that such extraordinary people want to be part of.

One of the original promotional banners from the Institute's launch, featuring David.

One of the original promotional banners from the Institute's launch, featuring David.

Which brings me to my last point. This week, we are also filing the documents needed to make the Institute a separate charity. P3 Foundation has hosted the Institute under its wing for its first four overseas delegations, but now we think it is ready to stand on its own. I can only offer my congratulations to the executive team that have built it this far and my thanks to all the delegates who have already been part of it. I cannot wait to see where else Rachel’s team will be sending delegations – and I can’t wait to meet the next cohort of delegates.