Noqu Mata Vuvale. I don’t say this lightly. 

Noqu mata vuvale has a very special meaning in my Fijian language. It means you have opened the gates and entered our loving home and there is a reason why we have kept this special place for you. You are family.

As I sit down to write this reflective blog in the form of a personal letter, I have contemplated deeply on the remarkable journey we’ve embarked on. My heart swells with pride, love and gratitude for each and every one of you who has stood by our side in this fight for climate justice. Our journey to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has been one of resilience, determination, persistence and unwavering solidarity. And an incredible amount of hard work.

It needed a family, a global Vuvale.

How did it all start?

It all began with a small group of young law students in the Pacific now known as the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change who were fueled by a deep sense of duty to our people and our planet. Together with the Vanuatu government and a handful of civil society organizations, including Greenpeace, we dared to dream of holding the world’s largest polluters accountable for the devastating impacts of climate change on our beloved Pacific Islands and all nations being in vulnerable situations because of the climate emergency across the world.

We knew that our voices alone would not be enough to bring about the change we so desperately needed. So, we mobilized. We mobilized our communities, our youth, our elders, and our allies across the globe. From the bustling streets of New York to the remote atolls of Tuvalu, from the mountains of Papua New Guinea to the chaotic UNFCCC conferences, we marched hand in hand – chanting, singing, negotiating, and shouting for climate action. 

We sailed our vaka (voyaging vessel) and canoes, guided by the inspiring leadership of the young students, to the United Nations General Assembly, carrying with us the hopes and dreams of millions who could not be there in person but were with us in deep mana (spirit). 

Farewell to the Rainbow Warrior in Funafuti. © Bianca Vitale / Greenpeace
The Rainbow Warrior’s farewell ceremony in the Pacific involves traditional dances, speeches, and the symbolic ‘I-tatau’ gesture to bid goodbye and honor the ship’s legacy in Tuvalu, followed by a gathering featuring traditional food to strengthen and forge new relationships. © Bianca Vitale / Greenpeace

Together, we turned our pacific vaka into a symbol of hope, unity, and resilience just like our ancestors did when they sailed across continents and the expansive Pacific Ocean to build a future for the generations that will carry their legacy. A future grounded in the principles of love for the vanua (land)  and the deepest connection to the moana (ocean). 

We showed the world that the fight against climate change knows no boundaries and that we are all in this together, sailing towards a shared future of sustainability and harmony with nature. What started as a campaign of the Pacific is now a truly global movement.

For us, this was not just about our Pacific Vuvale. 

It was about the youth who did not have the opportunity to connect to their ancestral land because the spiritual soil had eroded away. 

It was about the families who have to pick the remaining bones of their loved ones from the shore as rising seas have uprooted graves and wiped away their dignified resting place. 

It was about the pregnant woman who travelled over 10 km to fetch water for her family as her nearby water sources were polluted by extractive industries and in the process losing both her life and her child. 

It was about the inspiring senior women who have taken their government to the European Court of Human Rights as heat waves have threatened their right to life.

This fight was for all of us.

Unveiling the Power of Evidence to Achieve Climate Justice

But our journey did not end there. We knew that to truly make a difference, we needed more than just marches and speeches. We needed evidence. Evidence that would speak louder than words and compel even the most powerful among us to listen.

So, we embarked on a mission to collect evidence from the most remote corners of our planet. Evidence that would move you to tears, to anger, to admiration, to love. All types of emotions are experienced through the most resilient human beings on earth. We listened to their stories of loss and resilience, of struggle and hope. And we knew that we could not rest until their stories were heard.

We gathered evidence to provide to States – all of the countries that were a part of this climate fight –  to help with their submissions as well as to create our own Greenpeace submission. Our submission included powerful stories from the Pacific, Philippines, Norway, Mexico, Southern Africa, Switzerland and the Caribbean and in due time we will share this with you as the lived realities of these powerful individuals and communities cannot live only in a submission, but must be seen by the entire world.

Australia Steps Up – Heading to the ICJ

And now, after months of tireless advocacy and relentless pressure on world governments, we have achieved a monumental victory. The Australian Government, led by Minister Penny Wong, has committed to submitting to the ICJ. This is a significant step forward, and we applaud Minister Wong and her government for taking this bold and necessary action for our global Vuvale.

Pacific Climate Activists hold an action in Vanuatu for Climate Justice during COP26. © Greenpeace
During the opening of the COP26, 200 women gathered at Mt Yasur, an active volcano on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. The women hold signs, calling for climate justice in the Pacific. © Greenpeace

But our work is far from over. We must ensure that our voices continue to be heard loud and clear. The Australian government has shown no indication of what is in the submission. We kindly ask the Australian Government to provide full transparency of the contents of their submission and to acknowledge their historical responsibilities and contributions to the climate crisis. We urge them to work closely, in genuine solidarity and kinship with the Pacific governments throughout this process, ensuring that our voices are at the forefront of the conversation. For this advisory opinion to truly protect the human rights of the current and future generations, Australia must be a true ally and a genuine supporter.

What’s next?

In the next phase, June 2024, States will have an opportunity to respond to other States’ submissions and you will find noticeable naysayers. But we will not be deterred. We will keep fighting. The oral hearings at the end of the year provide an opportunity to centre the voices of our communities on the ground, and we will not miss that opportunity.

As we await the next steps in this historic journey, let us remember the resilience and determination that brought us to this point. Let us take some time to acknowledge the incredible leadership of the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change, the Vanuatu Government and the proud people of the Pacific. Let us continue to stand together, united in our commitment to protecting our planet and securing a sustainable future for generations to come.

It is time for our vaka to enter the gates of the world’s highest court and break down the walls of legal obstructions with love, compassion, resilience and the powerful energy of our people.

Thank you to each and every one of you for being a part of this extraordinary journey so far. And we cannot embark on the next phase without you. You will always have a cherished place on the Pacific Vaka. Together, we will win.

Loloma Levu (With the deepest love)

Shiva Gounden is the Head of Pacific for Greenpeace Australia Pacific.