Enele Sopoagas departure – a loss for Pacific climate leadership

Tuvalu elected a new Prime Minister earlier this month – a move that may cost the Pacific, strategic climate leadership at the global level.

Sopoaga who was elected to Tuvalu Parliament in 2010 and became Prime Minister from 2013 to 2019 has been a vocal climate advocate for the people of the Pacific. He is respected and well regarded in international circles and his mannerisms as a humble Polynesian Leader is evidence in his approach to global politics. Being from one of the smallest nations in the world – with a dwindling population and vulnerable islands – did not deter his ability to say what needed to be said in the right spheres.

At the UN Climate Convention in Peru – Sopoaga said: “If we save Tuvalu, we save the world.” That quote has resonated with many Pacific Leaders and has been repeated by many over the years.

With six years under his belt as Prime Minister – Sopoaga brought to the table not just a knowledge of his people but he also brought the humility and political charm that is very much necessary in these troubling times of world politics.

The last time I saw Sopoaga was in Fiji – where he sang a farewell song for delegates at a regional meeting.

Earlier that day he presented a compelling address about the state of his small island atoll nation to the meeting and many could not help but feel his plea.

Leaders like Sopoaga have brought the face of climate change to the world, as an advocate and a proud representative of his people, he has represented not just Tuvaluans but Pacific islanders in his pursuit of climate justice. This week he followed through on his promise to the youth of Tuvalu and hosted a youth climate conference to continue inspiring the people of Tuvalu on climate action.

So although this may read like a eulogy of a man who is still very much living – in a sense it marks a loss for climate leadership in the Pacific. It marks the departure, not of a Politician but of a Leader who still spoke from the heart and marked climate injustice towards his people as a personal affront. These are trying times in global politics, and Sopoaga was a key player in Pacific climate Leadership. His absence will certainly be felt.

One thing is for sure, incoming Tuvalu PM, Kausea Natanom has big shoes to fill, or in his case, big sandals to fit into. But as Tuvalu’s longest-serving MP, no doubt he has what it takes.

So as Pacific Leaders don their long suit pants and fold away their lavalavas (traditional skirt) preparing for the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly and the Climate Summit in New York – I will be thinking of Sopoaga and what he has done for the Pacific climate movement as a Leader and will miss his heartfelt address at the UN – and his guitar skills, that usually follows any meeting.


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