The slow violence that threatens the Marshall Islands, threatens us all.

Climate change impacts the most vulnerable atolls on our planet first and the future of the islanders is a global responsibility, says Climate Envoy Tina Stege.

Jaluit Atoll Lagoon, The Marshall Islands ©Keith Polya | Flickr

Stege is working on securing a future for her kids and her people, as she writes in her Twitter profile. Her people are the people of the Marshall Islands, an independent island country near the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Her job title is Climate Envoy, which is a political position as a representative of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) on the topic of climate change.

Tina is one of the expert speakers in the Reporting on Climate Change program organized by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the Asian Development Bank. Journalists from different countries in Asia-Pacific follow a five-week training where they learn more about climate change and digital skills to create informative content about the topic.

The half-hour presentation about the situation of the Marshall Islands highlights the urgency for global mitigation measures. “Our future is tied to what the world does”, as Tina Stege describes it. A global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees celsius will make The Marshall Islands not livable anymore. Tina’s job is to protect the Marshall Islanders and their way of life. Although that job isn’t easy and asks for a lot of patience. During the Q&A she admits that she doesn’t always like her work, but everything in this session tells us that it’s her mission to stand up for her country.

In a keynote statement at the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) summit in 2018 she says:

“I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, like late ambassador Tony de Brum. For many years now our people have been lighting the way forward in the face of these grim realities. We have led the way in international mitigation efforts. The Marshall Islands were the first country to ratify the Paris Agreement. And we were the first island nation to communicate with the UN, a strategy to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and to achieve climate resilience.”

Her voice isn’t loud when she speaks but the words are very clear and the message can’t be missed: “We don’t need the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to tell us the seriousness of the situation. Vulnerable countries like the Marshall Islands are being hit first and hardest by climate change but no country is immune.”

The session touches on the topic of international climate finance that is needed for a country like the Marshall Islands to adapt. Just like technical assistance will be a necessary help to lead the atolls to a sustainable future. As one of the leading shipping registries of the world, the RMI can positively influence emission reduction technologies. And Tina Stege explains why collaborations with youth alliances on this topic are so important because “they’re the most vulnerable too”.

Tina Stege, Marshall Islands Climate Envoy

The image of climate change summits is often that of political world leaders coming together in massive negotiation rooms, dressed in suits or pantsuits, shaking hands in front of cameras, and talking in professional jargon about the future of our planet. Tina Stege’s approach is different. She represents the Marshall Islands as a moral authority and acknowledges its vulnerability because “that isn’t a weakness, it’s what we need to build resilience”. She talks about “the right to our heritage to live here and not being pushed out by waves”. The determination in her work comes from her ancestors who “voyaged into uncharted waters ready to lead the way to a new future”.

In April 2020 Tina Stege shared a video on Facebook about how “those who can see the impact of a coming tragedy are the first to take action”. At that time, the Covid-19 pandemic had just started and as a small island state, the Marshall Islands understood the need to take decisive action in response to this existential threat. They protected themselves against the coronavirus by shutting their borders quickly, having just come through a devastating outbreak of dengue fever which was exacerbated by climate change.

What can journalists do to report on climate change in the best possible way? At the Planet and Peace Conference in New York in 2017, the Climate Envoy talked about the impact of the nuclear tests that the United States has executed in the Marshall Islands. Over 70 years ago now the US government conducted the first of what would be 67 nuclear tests in her country and the impact of these tests was both violent and immediate.

In this context she shares about what she thinks the role of the media should be, namely to report on how things “continue to impact people over a longer period of time. Not just highlighting big events that are bound in one space and time but report on the so-called often invisible “slow violence” that applies to the Marshall Island people and the people that are put into situations of the ecological disaster that go over many many generations.”

Tina Stege’s colleague Doreen de Brum uses clear language during the Human Rights Council.

The approach of people like Tina Stege who represent the most vulnerable on our planet is based on human rights. A week ago the Human Rights Council adopted with overwhelming support a resolution on Human Rights & Climate, writes Sébastien Duyck, senior attorney of the Center for International Environmental Law in an interesting Twitter #thread. It’s a small step forward, realizing that countries like the Republic of the Marshall Islands have asked for the establishment of a UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change for over ten years already.

Let’s hope that the voices of people like Tina get heard more loudly in the international reporting about this topic.

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