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The COP23 in Bonn was a Pacific COP with Fiji as its Presidency. Many issues that are central to the small island nation were given a central space during the 2-week conference and an important new concept was introduced into the negotiating structure of the UNFCCC: the Talanoa dialogue. How should we understand the meaning of this Pacific tradition? And did COP23 honour the Talanoa?

Climate Tracker asked Epeli Lalagavesi from the Fijian youth delegation for COP23 to comment:

Talanoa was a concept implemented by Fiji during COP23. But what is Talanoa? In the Pacific, definitions may vary as its meaning is rooted deep into our traditions so that one explanation hardly ever covers the full load. On most occasions, Pacific Islanders love to Talanoa around a bowl of Kava or yaqona (Fiji’s Traditional Drink) and you could hear shouts of “TAKI”, which is a command to serve more Kava. To some, the meaning is simply translated as Pacific storytelling. To young people, it is to deconstruct powers that stand in the way of our voices heard and to construct a space in which we can converse. As young people, we expected to Talanoa with our leaders in the 23d Conference of Parties. The lived reality of COP23, however, was far removed from the process we had envisioned. TAKI!

During one of the side events in the COP23 Bonn Zone, a young man asked: What strategy is Fiji adopting that is different from the other COP? The patriotic Pacific Islander inside kicked in and eagerly said the “TALANOA” concept. The reality was, this presidency was the same as the others before. As a Pacific Islander, I felt the true meaning of Talanoa has been redefined to fit into the context of these conference spaces. Talanoa should be inclusive but sadly this was not the case. Young people were not represented in negotiation spaces and given only “Observer Passes” which still did not give us the platform to voice our opinion. We as young leaders do not want to be only consulted, we want to be involved and be part of the solution. TAKI!


Opening ceremony of COP 23 (Photo: UNFCCC)

Moreover, what was sadder to witness was that even in these high level meetings youth voices are still being suppressed. Young people were told “This is not a forum to ask these questions!” or “We are disappointed with you for asking those questions” when those questions were mainly seeking answers to climate justice. We were expected to be puppets, to put up a good show and to not address the core issues we were called on by our people to share! The people we represent! The people who will not have a place to call home if their issues are not heard now!

Finally, I wish to address the discrepancies between the two conference venues: the Bonn Zone and the Bula Zone. Every afternoon, delegates would convene in side events at the Bonn Zone to hear from experts and get updated about what happened during the negotiations in the Bula Zone. I truly respect this; however most of the discussion took place in the Bonn Zone and I doubt they were ever addressed in the Bula Zone. This is where the technique of Talanoa is most crucial.

In order for the World to Voyage forward, we must TALANOA. We need to communicate! We need MORE ACTION! We must include everyone. EVERYONE! NO ONE LEFT BEHIND! We cannot afford to negotiate anymore, because you are simply negotiating our survival as Pacific Islanders. Let’s TALANOA MADA!

Epeli Lalagavesi

About Epeli Lalagavesi

I am a Student Journalist and Activist. Passionate about sharing Pacific Stories.