Introducing the climate warrior: Anote Tong’s journey

In September 2004, President Anote Tong of Kiribati made history at the United Nations General Assembly by highlighting the urgent need for action on climate change, sparking a global movement for climate justice and earning him the title of 'climate warrior.'

Imagine being the first leader to stand before the world at a UN General Assembly and declare the catastrophic impact of climate change for people living in countries on the frontline. That’s exactly what Anote Tong, President of Kiribati and Chevening Alumnus, did at the 2004 UN General Assembly.

His words echoed with urgency: “Our very existence as a state is at stake.”

Tong’s journey began with a profound realisation – the world was not paying attention to the human toll of climate change. Feeling isolated in his concerns, he questioned why others weren’t speaking up. But Tong’s persistence paid off. By 2007, his message had reverberated across the Pacific, and climate change was a global priority.

“For a long time, climate change was just discussed out of scientific curiosity, but not many people associated it with the threat to human lives, and what it means – not just for polar bears – but for people like us, who will lose our homes because of climate change.”

Tong didn’t stop there. He took action to protect his people, purchasing land in Fiji as a refuge against rising sea levels. His visionary approach earned him the title of “climate warrior.”

Reflecting on his journey, Tong credits his Chevening experience for empowering him to navigate the international stage. The programme instilled in him the confidence, values, and perspective needed to effect change.

“My Chevening experience became a part of me. It gave me that confidence that I needed to interact at the international level I believe that Chevening also helped give me the standards, the values, and the principles that I applied later in life [during my political career]. Often it’s not the classroom where you learn the best lessons, but rather the people who you get to interact with.”

For Tong, politics is more than just a career – it’s a calling to serve others. He urges current Chevening Scholars to use their influence for good and consider the power of politics in shaping a better world.

Anote Tong’s story is a testament to the impact of leadership, perseverance, and the belief that one person can change the world. As he once said, “Politics needs good people.” And if you’re a Chevening Scholar, you’re already one of them.

‘The fact that you are a Chevening Scholar means you have already shown that you have the capacity to influence decision making in whatever field you might be in. So make maximum use of that. And of course understand that if you’ve been selected for such a scholarship, you have been given a gift, so you must use that talent for the purpose of serving not just yourself, but others too.”

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