Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner Reflects on the Paris Climate Talks

We had the privilege of chatting with Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner about her involvement at the historic climate talks in Paris this past December.

Visit her website: Iep Jeltok

  • TFB = The Fourth Branch

  • KJK = Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

TFB: How was the experience in general. What did you do?

KJK: The experience was intense, inspiring, draining, frustrating, and getting lost a lot [laughs]. I was there specifically under the Global Climate Call for Action, a non-profit, with a group of spoken word poets representing Guahan, Philippines, Australia, Samoa, and the United States. I performed at a number of events, inside and outside of the COP, and also spoke on panels and did interviews.

TFB: What would be your most memorable moment? Any highlights worth sharing?

KJK: One of my most memorable moments was being a part of the 350.org Exxon Mobile mock trial, hosted by 350.org founder Bill McKibben and author of "This Changes Everything" Naomi Klein. It was supposed to be a trial, like courtroom trial, where we tried the big oil company Exxon Mobile, for crimes against the world. Milan was brought in as a judge, and I was brought in as a witness, representing the Marshall Islands, and there was also witness from other first nation indigenous peoples, from Africa, from the Arctic, as well as scientists and researchers. One after another, we testified to how climate change has affected our communities. Every testimony was so much more intense than I expected. I was the first one to go up, and as I listened to each witness go up and describe how climate change has affected their communities in horrible ways, I got angrier and angrier. I really had no idea that Exxon Mobile had wreaked so much havoc, and being at this was illuminating, to say the least.

The other moment that definitely stood out to me was being a part of a stone passing ceremony. A stone that was taken out of the river in the northern arctic was passed, marathon like, almost like a torch, across thousands of kilometers, one person at a time until it reached the COP in Paris. The whole thing was live streamed, as each person ran, or walked "for their life". Me and the group of poets I was with was asked to take the stone into the cop, and to write a poem that would be spoken over the live-stream. We brought the stone into the gates of the COP, then passed it to first nation indigenous youth, and it ended with Milan bringing the stone inside of the COP. It was a beautiful ceremony, and I loved how they connected the arctic to the islands, how it made this giant connection - this single stone.

TFB: What would you say was your biggest disappointment.

KJK: Mm..not sure. Biggest disappointment for me was that indigenous rights was not recognized in the agreement, once again, and that women's rights weren't recognized either.

TFB: Would you say that this is the deal you wanted?

KJK: No it's not. I was ecstatic when I first heard that 1.5 was in the agreement, and I'm still optimistic because of it. But I think it should have been way more ambitious.

TFB:  1.5 did not pass but was recognized. Are you hopeful that countries will adhere?

KJK: Having it recognized was a huge step - this can't be overlooked. Before I went to the COP, I was told by many campaigners and veterans of the COP that 1.5 wouldn't be on the table. So it was a huge deal to be recognized. I know that the only way countries will adhere is if we continue to put pressure on them.

TFB: What is your overall thought on the Pacific’s voice at the event?

KJK: I think the Pacific had a stronger voice at this COP than any other. I felt we were more united, and we had a strong presence, and I think we made a huge impact.

TFB: And your thoughts on super-powers?

KJK: Flying for sure.

TFB: The talks ended with many promises made, should we be optimistic?

KJK: We need optimism to have the energy to fight, but we need realism so we don't get lazy or float away [laughs]. So Yes I think we should be optimistic.

TFB: There is much skepticism, is this the time to talk of relocation?

KJK: I would say no - we shouldn't have to relocate and I refuse to even think of it.

TFB: Minister Tony de Brum has been instrumental in the talks with his performance and leadership. However, he did not get re-elected, what is your reaction to that?

KJK: It was a tragedy that Tony wasn't reelected. However, he made a huge splash at the COP. I admire his work and I have no doubt that he will continue to have a huge impact on the global scene.

TFB: What would you say is the legacy of the RMI in climate talks?

KJK: I think the RMI came out as leaders in this COP - I have a friend who works in Fiji. They had a debriefing workshop at USP afterwards, and he told me that each presenter was full of praise about the work of the RMI delegation. And I think it's because we had an amazing leader - Tony - and we also had amazing representation outside of the COP from our NGO's and from our youth.

TFB:  What's next for you?

KJK: Teaching, focusing on my students, and focusing on a new campaign that would partner us with the Majuro Atoll Waste Company - so we can start taking care of our islands ourselves.

TFB: Finally, Youth voices was strong, thoughts on that?

KJK: https://jkijiner.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/on-marshallese-youth-and-cop21/