One of the great failures of Fiji’s climate action campaign has been the missed opportunity of not linking up with arguably the world’s foremost climate crusader and inarguably the biggest star at COP26 – the young Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg. And the blame for that rests squarely with Fiji’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations, Dr Satyendra Prasad.
As part of the communications team at the UN Climate Summit in New York in September 2019, we put a lot of effort into developing close ties with Greta Thunberg and her team to try to link her with Fiji’s overall campaign and benefit from her immense appeal with young people the world over, including Fiji.
One of our team members spent several weeks getting close to the Thunberg camp with a view to setting up a meeting and photo call between her and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama – the former COP23 President – and Thunberg’s people were keen for this to happen. A time and place were set – in the forecourt of the UN headquarters building by the East River – and everything was set to proceed. But then on the eve of the meeting, Satyendra Prasad used his influence with the Prime Minister to shut it down. We sat there stunned as he dismissively said: “We don’t need Greta Thunberg. We have our own youth climate champions”.
While that was true, Thunberg was already a global star whose celebrity could have added lustre to our young Fijian campaigners and Fiji’s overall campaign. But Dr Prasad ( the “Dr” is a PhD in sociology) had other ideas and we were forced to go back to Thunberg’s people with an apology and the excuse that Frank Bainimarama didn’t have time in his busy schedule to meet her. He did but she wasn’t important enough for the PM or Dr Prasad.
A lost opportunity that ought to niggle both of them at COP26 now that Greta Thunberg is an even bigger star and bigger than either of them will ever be. But as strangers to shame – and with barely a passing acquaintance with self awareness – don’t bet on it.