Celebrating International Mountain Day 2015 with Ambassador Peter Thomson, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations,

On 7 December 2015, the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU) had the honor and privilege to host the Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations, His Excellency Peter Thomson as part of the agenda to celebrate the International Mountain Day (IMD) 2015. Ambassador Thomson gave a lecture entitled “Why small-island developing states matter at the United Nations” which was attended by UVU students and faculty in addition to the local Fijian-community members. His Excellency Peter Thomson held office as Vice President of the UN General Assembly for the 2011-2012 session and currently he is the President of the Council of the International Seabed Authority for its 2015- 2016 session.

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Ambassador Peter Thomson during presentation at Utah Valley University

The Ambassador’s lecture was very enlightening and synonymous with the major goals of the UIMF to support and promote adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. VIP guest began lecture by mentioning that his visit was not the first one to Utah, but it was his first actual stay. He told a story of a Greyhound bus trip he took across the United States, ultimately using the Salt Lake City station as a transfer point back in 1969. Today, much like back in 1969, he made a point to mention that Utah is a very clean and tidy place and doesn’t have a trash-pollution problem like New York City or Washington D.C.

            He then began to hit on the main topic of his lecture, which of course we at the UIMF were very interested in hearing. As Ambassador Thomson explained, there are approximately 53 Small Island Developing States (SIDS), most of these countries belonging to the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), making up 25-27% of the United Nations’ voting body. What makes them ultimately unique, and as his lecture title alludes to, is that this group of nations has come together in a united coalition to become a very powerful and impactful group which performs lobbying and negotiating functions for the SIDS within the United Nations, most notably focusing on climate change and its impact on the SIDS worldwide.

            This was why we at the UIMF were so interested in his lecture. How can we, a group advocating for implementation of Sustainable Development Goals in the mountainous regions of the world, create a similar group with the same amount of impact and respect as AOSIS? Similar to the SIDS, mountainous regions are deeply impacted by climate change, and are just as dependent on the SDGs as SIDS. The message we took from Ambassador Thomson’s lecture was the mountainous regions of the world need to unite in a unified voice of change and adherence to the SDGs to garner the same respect and impact as SIDS.

            Ambassador Thomson also briefly touched on the human migration problem facing the world. Another grim aspect of climate change, if it continues to go unabated, is that the populations on atoll-type nations will be completely flooded and displaced by approximately 4-5 feet of sea water. Fiji has set a precedent by offering all of the people on their neighboring islands a home on Fiji should climate change claim their homes. He urged the mainland nations and countries to act similarly, as coastal regions house millions more people than Small Island Developing States, and all of those people will need to migrate and resettle.

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Members of UIMF with Ambassador Thomson

Following the Ambassador’s lecture, Dr. Rusty Butler, the Associate Vice President of International Affairs and Diplomacy and focal point for the Mountain Partnership at UVU, during special meeting introduced UIMF members to Ambassador Thomson. This was a very unique opportunity for us to inform Ambassador Thomson about our contribution to the United Nations gender and sustainable mountain development agendas and our interest to create a group similar to AOSIS, only for the mountainous regions of the world. His advice was to continue the course that we are currently on. He specifically mentioned that group voices are heard more because they are louder and if they are united. He encouraged us to continue to pursue our North/South partnerships, to make sure that we are engaging the communities living in developing mountain nations throughout the world. And finally, he shared with us two thoughts before he had to leave to another meeting. He said, “Partnership is the leadership,” and “remember it’s one planet-one people. Don’t give up.”

            Ambassador Thomson’s visit was very impactful and gave all of us in attendance a renewed sense of urgency of working together on many urgent issues including climate change. Although we all face separate issues resulting from it, we all have a common interest in stopping it before it is too late. By doing nothing, we solidify our death as a species on our planet. But, by coming together as a people to fix a problem we created only unites us and brings us closer together as nature intended.

            Ambassador Thomson’s visit to UVU was arranged thanks to the special program of hosting foreign dignitaries at UVU campus of the office of International Affairs and Diplomacy led by Dr. Rusty Butler.

Tony Medina, President, Utah International Mountain Forum, a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University

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Fiji Ambassador: small island nations matter in the climate change war