The Pacific Islands confront climate change in a way most of us can’t begin to imagine. Sea level rise threatens not only the Pacific Islands’ resources—saltwater intrusion threatens freshwater and fertile soils for food production—but also endangers these countries’ very existence with the loss of several hectares of land each year. As UNFCCC Delegate and Cook Island-native Ulamila Wragg says, “Climate change cuts across every aspect of our society. The impacts are not indirect; they are directly affecting the livelihoods of our people, from education to government spending to our daily living.”

A journalist, Ulamila has covered climate change and its impacts on the environment, economy, and livelihoods of the people of the Pacific at length for many years. It was in this capacity that she attended her first UNFCCC meeting—COP14 in Poznan; she was one of five Pacific journalists chosen to cover the important event. While there, she participated in a joint side event of the Global Gender and Climate Alliance, highlighting the linkages between gender and climate change. With a history of work on women’s rights, Ulamila’s experience at COP14 helped to fuse her passion for work on women and on the environment and ultimately changed the course of her personal and professional life. Inspired by the event and overcome with urgency to raise awareness on gender and climate change in the Pacific, Ulamila used her media background to write articles on the issue and helped found the Pacific Gender Climate Coalition (PGCC). “These days,” says Ulamila, “I spend ninety-five percent of my time working voluntarily on gender and climate change issues in the Pacific, and spend the other five-percent on media work, which
puts food on the table.”

Since 2009, Ulamila has also been a member of the Cook Islands National Delegation at the UNFCCC, funded by the Women Delegates Fund, serving as their Media Officer. The WDF has provided Ulamila with a crucial entrypoint to speak up on issues of gender and climate change in the lesser-known Pacific Islands. “Through the WDF,” she says, “I’ve been able to bring in the specific scenarios of the Pacific to the UNFCCC. I’ve been on speaking tours and worked on other areas of public awareness raising, but the WDF gave the Pacific women and the Pacific people another voice [on gender issues], a consistent voice in the negotiations.”

The WDF has also provided Ulamila with an international network of women who have
come to feel like family. “We [the women delegates] can sit as negotiators and know
nothing about the other people there. But, with the WDF, it’s like a family, a family where we share; I’m sitting and discussing with my colleagues from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean,” says Ulamila. “It’s like sitting with my sisters and discussing our children going to school and how we can help each other. It’s given me a better understanding of the outside world.”

A mother of four, Ulamila regrets that, in a world altered by climate change, her children are unable to experience the biodiversity of the Islands the way that she and previous generations of family did while they were young. Despite the current struggles and challenges ahead, Ulamila is confident in the perseverance of the Pacific. “We’ve been living here for years; our culture is so rich and our women are so knowledgeable. How can anyone undervalue us?”

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