Generations for Change: “The Dawn of A New Era”

January 22, 2018
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Courtesy Ocean Futures Society

It is most fitting and symbolic to me that the opening words of the climate conference this year came from a young 12-year old Fijian boy by the name of Timoci Naulausala. Looking out into the crowd, this young man stood before world leaders from nearly every nation on the planet and spoke about the reality of climate change he faces every day and the future Earth he will inherit. This young man, and the young people alive today, are the next generation. These are the people who will grow up to become our decision-makers, and these are the people who are telling us now what we need to do.

The problem is, there is no more time for doubt on climate change. We already see the effects – devastating hurricanes and cyclones, historic flooding, prolonged droughts, and mass migrations from both conflict coupled with significant environmental change. It is now time to focus on the many solutions available. The changes to our climate do not stop when age-old political discussions come to the table, catastrophic weather patterns will not cease because of our inaction or inability to make decisions. As the young Fijian boy, Timoci, so eloquently reminded us at the beginning of the conference, we here today “in recognition that the threat of climate change is real, urgent, serious and is growing overnight.” Timoci followed with a simple truth, “it needs to be solved.”

This year was my first time being physically present at the UN climate conferences, officially titled the United Nations Framework Convention Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP), and this year the twenty-third annual meeting was held, a.k.a. COP 23. Each year, the conference is hosted and led by one nation and this year Fiji was selected. Yet, due to the massive size of population gathering at COP 23 and the relatively small size of the Fijian islands, Germany kindly offered to host the physical location while Fiji remained the official host of the COP 23 events. Fiji, a place near to my heart, used the opportunity this year to tell their story and shine a light on what climate change looks like today for the millions of people who live so close to the oceans and who depend so intricately on the stability of the climate to sustain their lives.

The unfortunate truth is that climate change will hurt those who are already the most vulnerable. Island nations whose populations reside at or near sea level and communities whose livelihoods are so closely linked to the environment around them will feel the impacts of climate change – water, weather, drought, and heat – first, and likely hardest. While it may be easy for so many people to feel despaired when they read these kinds of news or the headlines that warn of catastrophic climate change and the enormity of the issue before us – we must not forget that we are not facing this crisis alone. We have the entire human population behind us, generations of leaders, thinkers, engineers, artists, innovators, and dreamers. There is no challenge that together, we cannot solve.

Two years ago at COP 21, my daughter, Celine Cousteau presented at the climate talks in Paris, France. She spoke not only for the oceans, the planet and the environment, but also for the many people, especially native and indigenous peoples whose lives so critically depend on the quality of their environment. My daughter has spent her life documenting the stories of people in the Amazon and the struggles they face. I am a proud father when I think of her leadership. And yet, my daughter is also a mother. My grandson will grow up in the world we leave behind. We are only one family of generations. My father did all he could to spread awareness about the problems of our world, and I have spent my life carrying that flame of faith. But the world is at a turning point. Young people today know this. We know enough about the problems. Now we need to make decisions and move forward on real, urgent, and serious solutions.

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The reef at Namena, Fiji. © Carrie Vonderhaar, Ocean Futures Society

The rapid climate change we are experiencing today is a problem made by people. This means, it is a problem that can be solved by people. We are the greatest barriers to our own solutions. The technology is here; we know how to capture energy from the wind, the sun, and the seas. We know enough to start the momentum of change. It is equally fitting that Fiji led COP 23 this year. Fiji, and so many small island nations like them, has contributed negligible carbon emissions to the global climate, and yet they are leading the world on solutions. Fiji, for example, is committing to increasing renewable energy, investing in environmentally sustainable tourism, and reminding us all how to be more thoughtful and gentle when it comes to on our impact on our ocean home.

When I reflect back on COP 23, I see that young Fijian boy as a symbol of future leaders to come. Knowledgeable, educated, brave, and authentic, he represents the generations of today who will never give up hope. This is their future, and they will not wait for the leaders of older generations to stand in their way. I applaud every person, young, old, or anywhere in between, making their own contributions to solve the challenges of climate changes ahead. Because we do not need any more doubt, or delay. As I approach my 80th birthday this year, I am more optimistic and excited than ever that we can truly re-envision our world. More than anything, we need hope and change: and lucky for us, we have generations of tomorrow’s leaders ready to change the course of their future today.

Warm regards,

Jean-Michel Cousteau
President Ocean Futures Society

“Protect the Ocean and You Protect Yourself”