We’re all a bit reeling after COP26. Many feel hopeful that enough was achieved to make sure staying on track for 1.5 degrees has been kept alive. Others are feeling that the can on big decisions has been kicked down the road, until at least another meeting next year. Even if we react fast now to slow fossil fuel emissions, a billion people in the world are likely to be displaced by climate breakdown. The youth activists feel it’s another missed opportunity. More blah, blah, bah. They may have a point too.
Being part of COP26 was an extraordinary experience. A maelstrom of big ideas and good intentions. Amongst all of the conversations I had and the inspiring talks I listened to, one person and their experience stood out to me. And that was Uili Lousi.
Uili was the only representative from the Kingdom of Tonga attending the conference and he has serious skin in the game. Tonga is the second country most at risk in the world. “We are a group of islands in the misty ocean, and it is the ocean which unites us,” Uili said.
It’s also the ocean that is their biggest danger, along with sudden-onset hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclonic winds and storm surges. If sea levels rise at the rate predicted, much of Tonga will disappear.
So, Tonga is doing everything it can to respond and come out strong, and the Pacific Island negotiators fought hard to be heard at the summit. The Foreign Minister Simon Kofe of Tualvu stood in the sea for a press conference to draw attention to rising sea levels.
Tonga has disaster proofing and planning structural resilience to reduce coastal inundation. Uili is at the frontline, collecting data from grassroots communities to provide the government with a fuller picture for planning how to build back better. Everyone on the island has access to a computer, for warnings of imminent extreme weather but also critical when it comes to re-building.
A conversation can change you. Meeting Uili has made me more determined than ever before to take actions on a personal and a professional level, and to use my skills as an urban designer and masterplanner to work towards a more socially just world, helping communities – wherever they may be – to build more resilient places.
Photo (top): Low tide, Nuku’alofa, Tonga by Adli Wahid