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Pacific youth 'grow up with fear' as climate change threatens their homes and futures

By Jordan Fennell, Tahlea Aualiitia and Edwina Seselja, Sunday November 7, 2021 - 19:11 AEDT
ABC image
Shannon Sogavare worries what the landscape of the Solomon Islands will look like for future generations. - ABC

Shannon Sogavare, 16, from Solomon Islands has already seen how rising sea levels have swallowed parts of her country's landscape. 


When the teen was younger, she would visit the islands of Choiseul province where her father, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, grew up.


"He would tell wonderful stories, like he and his brothers playing on the sandy beaches of Nuatabu and having to wake up very early in the morning to go attend church gatherings at the end of the village," Shannon says.


"The sad thing is that I never get to see the whole island of Nuatabu, which my father grew up in. 


"The middle part of the island of Nuatabu is now fully covered with sea, leaving the island with two ? separate islands."


She fears what the archipelago's landscape will look like in years to come and is acutely aware of the threat climate changes poses to her home.


"As a teenager, this issue of climate change is very personal for me, since I myself have a long life to live," Shannon says.


"And, by looking at how the climate patterns are changing, and how climate change has affected my family [and] village community, I don't actually know what my future would be like, and ? what the survival of my future would be."


Shannon, like many children and young people in the Pacific, is paying close attention to the developments and outcomes of the COP26 conference currently taking place in Glasgow. 


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The future for the region ? according to modelling from Save the Children's Born into The Climate Crisis report ? looks grim, with children in Australia and the Pacific predicted to experience up to 10 times more extreme weather events than their ancestors. 


Worldwide, that figure jumps to 24 times as many climate-induced extreme weather events, for children born in 2020.


The report says a baby born last year in Papua New Guinea will face 10 times the heat waves and double the risk of fires than were experienced by their elders. 


Meanwhile, children in Vanuatu are predicted to face nearly three times as many droughts.


It is not a future that Tanya Watsivi McGarry*, 9, who lives in Vanuatu, is willing to accept.


"No, I wouldn't want to grow up in a world like that where there was more climate change, where there were storms, because I would not feel like that was right," Tanya says.


Even at nine years of age, Tanya is old enough to remember bunkering down when Cyclone Pam tore through her home six years ago. 


"We were all squashed up in the bathroom," Tanya says, recalling the category five cyclone.


"We could hear the glass shattering and the water came up." 


She rememberers feeling "very scared", worried about the trees that surrounded her home. 


Just last year, her home island of Pentecost was devastated by Cyclone Harold, tearing infrastructure apart and decimating crops and resources. 


"It was terrible," Tanya says. 


"All the fruits, the vegetables, the island cabbage, all of that was destroyed.


"Then it couldn't grow anymore." 


Growing up in the shadow of climate change, the young girl recognises the role foreign countries will play in the region's future.


"There [are] people out there who are trying to do their best and then there [are] people out there who are not trying to do their best," she says.


Tanya's sentiments reflect those of Pacific leaders, who have criticised Australia for not having ambitious enough emissions reduction targets.


Late last month, Australia committed to a target to reach net zero by 2050.


Earlier this week, Pacific Island leaders pressed Prime Minster Scott Morrison to make sharper cuts to Australia's emissions this decade.During his speech to world leaders, Mr Morrison said Australia would increase its climate finance commitment to its Pacific and South-East Asian neighbours by $500 million over the next five years, to reach a total of $2 billion. 


Learning to live with the threat


In Fiji, Aiyanna Nacewa, 8, and her classmates are learning what to do in the event of a cyclone. 


"We learn [if] one big storm hits, we should board up, save our electricity and save our water and food and close up the windows and doors," Aiyanna says.


While the lessons help students understand how to prepare for natural disasters, they do little to ease the fear children like Aiyanna have internalised about natural disasters and climate change. 


"When a first cyclone hit with thunder and lightning, I looked outside the window and I was scared because my thoughts were that lightning could hit our house and, and that's when it could make a hole through the roof."


'My future is at stake'


Shannon has witnessed communities searching for food, water and shelter after cyclones that have flattened villages in the Solomon Islands.


"This country is very vulnerable to natural disasters, houses, villages and even lives were lost due to natural disasters," Shannon says.


"So, to what it means to grow up with cyclones and extreme weather, [it] basically means to grow up with fear, fear of dying, fear of losing my own home, and also fear of trying to survive.


"I understand that this is not an easy issue that world leaders could address overnight. 


"But I would want the world leaders to please sympathise with us Pacific Island countries, and see how my own people are struggling to survive due to climate change. 


"As a teenager, I want to call on world leaders to try and change things around my family's life, my own life, my future is at stake."


*Tanya Watsivi McGarry is the daughter of freelance journalist Dan McGarry.







- ABC

© ABC 2021

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