Editor’s Note: This interview first appeared on Harvard University’s Sense & Sustainability website. A shortened version has been republished on YGC’s blog with the permission of the author. Sivendra Michael and Ken Fullerton were both selected as Young Global Changers in 2017.
By Ken Fullerton (YGC, 2017)
For being such a young man, Sivendra Michael has accomplished a lot. Having personally experienced the effects of climate change, he became inspired to take action and has since been described as a “superhero – without the cape.” Recently, Ken Fullerton caught up with Sivendra to learn about his climate change initiatives.
What inspired Sivendra to act?
Although Fiji and neighbouring islands in the South Pacific collectively emit far below one percent of total global greenhouse gases, the region is among the most vulnerable to its negative impacts. It is expected that more extreme weather conditions and rising sea levels will lead to massive displacements of communities in the Region.
“Growing up, I witnessed how natural disasters devastated homes of people in my community, claimed innocent lives and left thousands in a helpless state” Sivendra says. He sought to learn more about natural disasters, what causes them, and the effects of climate change. It was at university that Sivendra connected with “other like-minded people that shared similar concerns regarding environmental issues.”
His concern for the environment transferred into his activism work and his doctoral studies at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.
“I then grew passionate about sharing narratives about local communities in Fiji and drew inspiration from other local climate activists, who were also concerned about what the future would be like if our current generation does not do anything about it.” Sivendra goes on to acknowledge his roots and recognize the communities that have given him a purpose. “I thank the Turaga ni Koro (village spokesperson) and the people of Votua, Nawaqarua, Yalalevu and Namasau for their loloma (love and trust) and support towards this journey,” he says.
What Climate Change initiatives does Sivendra participate in, and what they have achieved?
Sivendra has designed and implement innovative programs that encourage others to learn about and take action on climate change. “My work as an activist and advocate on SDG 13 – Climate Action, is deeply rooted in my passion for working with young people to defend our island homes,” he explains.
His work has seen him join multiple projects and campaigns. Adhering to his motto, which he often shares with young people in his community – “small changes collectively make a significant impact” – has enabled him to design, implement, and support many worthwhile initiatives and campaigns that have positively impacted thousands.
For example, in his Valuing Voices project, Sivendra and his supporters combine art with activism to promote artivism, “a word embedded in me by the great Moana Maniapoto (a New Zealand singer, songwriter and film maker).” Music videos, documentaries from maritime tours, theatrical performances, and social media campaigns have been used to spread important messages that locals relate to and understand. These campaigns often relate to negative personal experiences with climate change. “It is based on an understanding that diversity of voice leads to better governance for everyone,” Sivendra says.
Why is collaboration and Networking so important?
Sivendra credits networking as key to his success: “Without networks and relationships, the movements by young people would not be as strong as they are now and continue to empower and inspire.”
Representing Fiji, and young people, on the international stage also affords Sivendra an opportunity to network and build awareness and support. Over the last two years, for example, he has been involved with the Youth Observer Constituency of the United Framework Convention on Climate Change (YOUNGO) and participated at the World Climate Change Conference and other pre-meetings. “The key objective is to ensure that voices of young people are heard and included not only in negotiation text but also outside these spaces,” he shares.
In addition, he was selected in the inaugural class of Fiji’s 30 under 30, as one of 100 Young Global Changers in 2017 and is an Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society. While not seeking individual recognition, Sivendra feels passionately about using the recognition he has received for engaging with others, increasing the impact of his initiatives, and generally raising awareness about important climate change issues.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Solutions Initiative.