Marshall Islands poet continues to make an impact at COP21

4 December, 2015, Paris, France, COP21 - PACNEWS Editor, Makereta Komai now in Paris, France at the COP21 sat down with Marshall Islands youth activist, poet and a mother, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, whose powerful poem recital received standing ovation at the United Nations General Assembly last year. This week, Vogue magazine named the 28 year old as one of the 13 most powerful and influential women at the climate talks in Paris. Ms Kijiner was one of the youth speakers from the Pacific that shared their hopes and aspirations in the Paris Agreement at the Indigenous Peoples Pavilion on Thursday.

You shared another of your powerful poem, 2 degrees, with delegates today. What is your message in the poem?
Kathy Kijiner: I did focus on my daughter in the poem. I wrote it is because a CNN journalist came to the Marshalls and said that he was doing a series on 2 degrees and asked me to write a poem. After I did some research I realised that 2 degrees was not safe for us and that it was actually 1.5 degrees. I wanted to highlight in this conversation that the rich countries don't seem to be prioritising the voices of indigenous peoples, atoll nations, Pacific Islanders that are asking for 1.5 degrees. These are communities and peoples in the frontline of climate change. This is a conversation that needs to happen within the climate movement. It's easy to say we are trying to get to 2 degrees but at the same time we need get up and say back to them that they are ignoring the needs of our islands and you are gambling with our future.
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Makereta Komai: Being here for a few days, and listening to the discussions going on, do you think that conversation is beginning to pan out?
Kathy Kijiner: Its happening in really interesting ways. These conversations are really old and have been happening. I think we are engaging in the conversation in a very different way though. That is why a group of us got together to start a non-profit body back home called Jo-Jikum to get our young people to be part of the campaign 1.5 to stay alive. There are some saying that it's not going anywhere and it's being ignored again but some people are saying no our leaders are actually pushing for a strong agreement. I wrote an article recently that said that our leaders are still pushing hard for 1.5 degrees.

Makereta Komai: Talk to me about this non-profit organisation that you have started at home, that is mobilising young people to be involved in climate activism
Kathy Kijiner: Jo Jikum means 'Your Home' in Marshallese and is basically a non-profitable NGO that we've just recently started. We wanted to have a space to mobilise and empower Marshallese youth to take care of their land and environment. We focus on climate change in the international arena which is why have been involved in the 1.5 campaign and we partnered with At the same time, on the ground we want to focus more on pollution and waste management because that is what we feel is our immediate need back home.

Makereta Komai: How aware are the young people of Marshall Islands on these issues?
Kathy Kijiner: Just the fact that they know what 1.5 is, is huge. To know the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees is a big plus on our awareness campaigns. Now, our young people are able to engage in this dialogue and understand what their leaders are pushing for at COP21. That awareness and understanding didn't exist before. I think they are definitely more engaged than before because we are taking the time to educate them. Engaging youth meaningfully needs to happen throughout the Pacific.

Makereta Komai: You've written a number of very powerful poems and a lot of it is very personal, why?
Kathy Kijiner: With good poetry and in the vein of the good poetry that I was taught, poetry is more effective when you are specific, name names, because when you are telling your story, you are telling everybody's stories. If you get too general, it becomes too clichéd and boring. But when I tell my personal story and discuss my daughter, people can identify with their own children.

Makereta Komai: Your daughter is 21 months old. Are you optimistic about her future?
Kathy Kijiner: I think I am definitely scared. I think we all are but I know that I need to be optimistic because if you become too negative you won't have the motivation to keep going forward in life. I am optimistic. The poetry I have written about her is wildly optimistic. I want to believe the best will happen for my daughter.

Makereta Komai: How are you balancing work and family life – a young 28 year old mother with a 21 month old daughter?
Kathy Kijiner: I do work full time at the College of Marshall Islands as well. I am doing my best but I am very fortunate that I have supporting family members. My partner is very supportive and so is the administration that I work for. They understand the broader implications of the work that I do. I do my best to meet their needs but at the same time, they accommodate my needs as well. Baby misses me and this is the longest that I have been away from her in a long while.

Makereta Komai: You rose to fame when more than 190 world leaders gave you a standing ovation at the UN General Assembly after you recited another of your powerful poem. What was that feeling like?
Kathy Kijiner: It was surreal and crazy. I didn't know they were applauding me. I thought they were just being polite after my presentation. It was really amazing afterwards when I found out that it was a standing ovation.

Makereta Komai: What happens after COP21?
Kathy Kijiner: We are going to continue to mobilise. We are planning actions on the ground in response to whatever the outcome of COP21 will be. We are definitely continuing our fight and moving forward. We know that Paris COP21 is not the end and we are fighting beyond Paris.

Makereta Komai: How do you feel being named by Vogue magazine as one of the 13 most influential women at the climate change talks here in Paris?
Kathy Kijiner: I think it's a huge honour because the rest of the women on that list are amazing. I know some of them personally and they are doing such amazing work and I look up to them. It's kind of surreal and cannot believe that.

Makereta Komai: You have been described as a role model for young people in the Pacific, your advice to youths in the Pacific?
Kathy Kijiner: A lot of Pacific cultures tells us that youth need to listen and respect their leaders. That is definitely valuable. But when it comes to fighting for justice, we need to speak out. That is the message I want to leave for young people in the Pacific. Stand up and be counted. I urge them to join these kinds of movement and speak out if they can. If we don't fight for it, who will?

The 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP21) is held in Paris, France from 30 November to 11 December, 2015. - #4PacIslands
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