Young people from large ocean states, or Small Island Developing States (SIDS), are advocating for action on climate change by sharing their experiences with people from around the world. In celebration of ‘Young and Future Generations Day’ at the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Katowice, Poland, a side event on youth and the role Peace Boat organisation plays to support them was held at the Pacific and Koronivia Pavilion.

Peace Boat is a Japan-based international organisation that is non-government and non-profit. Peace Boat’s objective is to “promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development, and respect for the environment.”

Peace Boat aims to increase awareness and action that targets positive social and political change in the world. The organisation does this through global education programmes, responsible travel, cooperative projects and activities of advocacy. These activities are carried out in partnership with other civil society organisations, as well as communities, in Japan and around the world.

Its main activities are carried out through a chartered passenger ship that travels the world on “peace voyages”. The ship, which is recognisable for carrying the logo of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDs), goes port to port with a neutral and open space that enables people to engage with others who they normally would not be able to, all within a dialogue of mutual cooperation at sea and the ports they enter.

The panel featured youth climate activists Ms Genevieve Jiva, Pacific Islands Climate Action Network Coordinator from Fiji and Mr Peter Haldorsen from the Young Icelandic Environmentalists. The Republic of Seychelles’ Ambassador for Climate Change and SIDS Issues, His Excellency Ronald Jean Jumeau was also part of the panel as a special guest because of the work he has done to accelerate the capacity building of and including youth in the space of climate change issues. International Coordinator at Peace Boat, Ms Karen Hallows facilitated the side event and spoke on behalf of Peace Boat.

“Today is Youth Day at COP24, as well as Transport and Renewable Energy Day, and this side event is going to put together all of those themes together here at the Pacific and Koronivia Pavilion,” said Ms Hallows as she opened the side event.

“Transport as we see it, is all about connections. And Peace Boat has been travelling the world since 1983, organising voyages for peace and sustainability. I want to acknowledge here in the Pacific and Koronivia Pavilion, the fantastic and very important role that the Pacific island nations have played in pushing for reduction in the shipping industry, and demanding they take responsibility,” she said.

This important leadership of Pacific nations is credited for the announcement earlier this year by International Maritime Organisation (IMO) of enforcing a 50% reduction of shipping emissions by 2050, which came about as a direct result of the Tony de Brum Declaration.

Peace Boat is moving towards using renewable energy and green technology for shipping and transport with the aim of reducing their emissions, and the latest model is a 2000 passenger ship which will have solar panels and sails among other green technology and energy to power it.

Peace Boat’s education programmes are the main ways in which they achieve their objectives of peace and sustainability, and they recently introduced the Ocean and Climate Ambassador Youth Programme which brings together youth from global SIDS, or ‘large ocean states’. These island youths come together to voyage on a three week journey on Peace Boat, sharing their stories of climate degradation and living on the frontlines with people all around the world via the ports they visit.

“The programme specifically focuses on goals 13 and 14 which are climate action and life below water,” said Ms Genevieve Jiva from Fiji who is an Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador who participated in the programme in July this year.

“Climate change is a worldwide discussion and everyone has to be a part of it, including young people and leaders, organisations, corporations, and people of all levels. The youth in particular should be given more opportunities, and that is why this programme is amazing,” she said.

Ms Jiva and six other Youth Ambassadors of the programme began their journey in Stockholm, Sweden and sailed to Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Canada and finished their journey in New York.

“For me, stepping onto the deck of the ship after it had reached open-ocean for the first time was amazing, and beauty of the ocean was incredible. But it was also terrifying because if the rate of climate change continues as it is now, the ocean may be all that remains of the beautiful Pacific islands that I call home,” said Ms Jiva. “And this was the message I took with me on the trip: that climate change is real – vulnerable countries and communities are already facing devastating impacts, and we need a safe and just transition to renewable energy as soon as possible.”

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 states that we only have 12 years to act in order to avoid catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Ms Jiva encouraged youth present at the event to apply for the programme with Peace Boat, sharing about the once in a lifetime experience and the valuable things she learned in those three weeks out at sea. More importantly, she emphasised the role island people play in advocating and sharing their experiences with others do not understand climate change challenges.

“Sharing our experience of devastating impacts we were facing as a result of a problem we did not cause, we realised it can be hard to care about an issue if you don’t know much about it. And this journey gave us an opportunity to share our realities with the world, to put the human face on climate change and emphasis that impacts won’t stop in the islands, and will only get worse all over the world.”

Mr Peter Haldorsen from the Arctic Youth Network was among those who welcomed Ms Jiva and the Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassadors. “The Arctic Youth Network’s objective is connecting youth of different cultures and regions with a focus on how climate change, biodiversity and cultural equality are interconnected,” said Mr Haldorsen. “We cannot address those challenges without first looking at them as a single entity.”

The Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador Programme will open their next intake for their 2019 voyage, and island youth are strongly encouraged to apply. To learn more about the programme and upcoming voyages, visit the Peace Boat website.