My day at COP26: 'I told world leaders: We're not drowning, we're fighting'

Published
Related Topics
Image source, Natasa Leoni/350.org

Samoan climate activist Brianna Fruean, 23, addressed world leaders at the opening of COP26. In the first of a series of first-person accounts from the Glasgow summit, she describes what it felt like to speak up for Pacific islanders - whose homes and way of life are under threat from rising sea levels.

I woke up early, about 06:00. And I thought: "Today's finally the day."

I'd spent a couple of days working on my speech - writing it out, making cuts. I felt immense pressure to represent the Pacific well.

Due to uncertainty around Covid, so few Pacific delegates have been able to get to the UK. And with all the quarantine rules - you need to go via New Zealand to get to Samoa - I left not knowing when I might be able to go back.

I remember, at primary school, my teacher telling my class that climate change could mean small islands like Samoa, Tutuila and Tonga might drown. I just thought, "I'm not going to let my islands drown."

So I set up an environmental group at school. I started a chapter of the global climate movement - 350.org. I was the youngest co-ordinator at the time, at 11 years old.

Today it was a bit chaotic getting into the summit. But I hope that the reason it was so chaotic was because there's heaps of people here who care.

I wear a flower in my ear, and as I made my way inside that attracted quite a lot of people to ask where I'm from. To have people notice the flowers and know that Pacific islands' people are here is a good thing.

A woman and child in floodwaters on the Pacific island of Kiribati
Getty Images
The words I shared didn't just belong to me - they belong to every single Pacific island
Brianna Fruean
Samoan climate change activist

I was a little bit nervous at first as I sat waiting to speak. I was thinking to myself: "Just breathe. Take it in. Everyone in the crowd is human. They're exactly like me."

When I walked out to deliver my speech, I knew where the Samoan delegation was sitting, so I tried to face them. But because they were under "S" they were a bit far back.

Then I looked to the front. I could see Sir David Attenborough and then I could see US President Joe Biden - those were the only two faces I could make out.

I told the audience: "We are not drowning - we are fighting."

Image source, UNFCCC
Image caption,
Brianna Fruean addresses COP26

My Day at COP26:

It felt great to be heard. The words I shared didn't just belong to me - they belong to my community, they belong to every single Pacific island.

I think that was really important for me to tell the world leaders that they don't need my tears and my pain - and quite frankly, they don't deserve it.

The next thing I'm going to do is look for the New Zealand delegation. New Zealand is a gateway to most Pacific islands - so if you can get to New Zealand you can get home. I'm going to ask them for help.

As told to Jon Kelly

The COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow is seen as crucial if climate change is to be brought under control. Almost 200 countries are being asked for their plans to cut emissions, and it could lead to major changes to our everyday lives.