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“The Power of My Storytelling:” 3 Takeaways From COP28

A first-time attendee of COP discusses her experience advocating on behalf of Pacific islanders.

By Suhra Nahib on January 30, 2024

In November 2023, Iorina Kauanako Teraieta, a Banaban youth advocate and community worker from UUSC partner Banaban Human Rights Defenders Network and Rabi Island Community Hub (RICH), attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as the Conference of Parties, or COP28. Every year, parties to the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) gather to check their progress toward implementing their pledge to combat climate change. This year was not an exception. All the parties attended the conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates to discuss how to tackle climate change. 

Attending COP28 for the first time can be an intimidating experience, particularly for those representing a small island community like Rabi Island in northern Fiji.

Before boarding the plane to Dubai, the Iorina expressed uncertainty about what awaited her at COP28. Having never traveled outside Fiji, the overwhelming responsibility of representing her people fueled a mix of nervousness and excitement. Despite some expectations, the sheer magnitude of the conference and unexpected requests to share her story took her by surprise.

Despite Iorina being nervous, speaking at the Indigenous panel and sharing her story proved to be powerful and brought unexpected joys. 

“I did not realize the power of my storytelling, and when people around me cried and felt how I felt, it was such an incredible moment to feel truly heard,” she said. I was surprised that people wanted to know my story about being in Banaban, my home, Rabi Island, and what my people went through. I was pleased that I was on the media and [was able to] share my story to different audiences, people, and on different platforms.”

The key highlights of COP28 for Iorina were:

  1. Learning that her story is important and needs to be told; 
  2. Gaining the confidence to speak and share her culture/history with other panel delegates; and
  3. Meeting the prime minister of Fiji, which strengthened her resolve to advocate on behalf of her people, a lesson she intends to carry into her future work.

While the Pacific Pavilion provided a sense of community, disappointment arose from the limited exposure of the stories of Pacific islanders. The absence of discussions on disabilities and the overwhelming focus on economics left Iorina feeling isolated. There is a longing for more significant exposure to the actual experiences faced by Pacific communities, especially regarding the impacts of climate change.

It’s important to have Indigenous communities at COP. Iorina stressed that these communities hold generational knowledge crucial for addressing climate change. Indigenous voices should not only be heard but actively included in decision-making processes to protect their islands, people, and culture.

UUSC’s support was instrumental in making the Iorina’s journey to COP28 possible. This support meant more than just a trip; it opened doors for her story to be heard globally. The experience helped her grow and develop skills and highlighted the significance of Indigenous voices in international spaces. 

“It was a huge opportunity to learn and grow and build my confidence as a young Banaban woman born and raised on my island, and I would have never imagined that I would travel to Dubai and share my story.” 

Iorina also highlights the need to invest in Banaban youth, providing platforms for their voices to be heard. The hope is for more Banabans to attend future COP conferences, ensuring a continued presence in global climate discussions.

Image credit: UUSC

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