Meet the Pacific Greta Thunberg

Written by: Aroha Awarau

Aniva Clarke was 10 years old when she became an environmental activist. Saving her beloved home of Samoa drives her to make a difference.

At just 17, Samoan born environmental activist Aniva Clarke, has already been recognised internationally, belongs to an international United Nations group and has been influential in amplifying the Pacific youth voice about climate change.

With everything that she has achieved, many have compared Aniva to Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate change campaigner who has been the poster child for the movement after she gave a passionate speech at the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference challenging world leaders to take immediate action.

Aniva is just as passionate about the cause, but she insists that she is very different from Greta in that she comes from a purely Polynesian lens. She hopes her advocacy will help save the Pacific Islands from the ever increasing impact of climate change.  

“I do get compared to Greta, but I just want to be me! We have different leadership and advocacy styles” Aniva says, on a Zoom call from her home in Samoa.

“I’m driven by my indigenous Samoan culture and our beliefs and ways of thinking. I have witnessed many natural disasters directly connected to climate change which alarmed me. Climate change was always talked about as our ‘future’ but in reality, for many Pacific Islands, it is our present.”

“I also do a lot around children and environmental rights. Children are the future of our planet. We will be making the decisions and so we should have a voice now.”

In 2022, Aniva was selected as one of 12 global youth advisors on the inaugural Children’s Advisory Team, an international group that works with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to facilitate youth consultations on children’s rights, the environment and climate change.

Born and raised in Tiapapata in Samoa, Aniva started her environmental activism when she was just 10 years old.  She was motivated to make a difference after seeing first-hand the devastating impact that climate change was having on her beloved home – like the increase in temperature, the frequent cyclones, and the rise in sea levels and the eroding coast line.

“I have grown up in an environment where the impact of climate change is prevalent. Right now, I’m sitting in my room and I’m sweating, and it’s like 28 degrees. Growing up, the temperature was not this high. There has been an increase in flooding in town. This is not only happening in Samoa, but throughout the whole Pacific Islands.”

Recently, Aniva went snorkelling in Samoa and was heartbroken to see that even some of the coral in the beautiful reef are dying.

“You can see all of the eco systems that live within the coral, how they all function and work together to protect our oceans and keep our waters thriving and healthy. So, visually seeing all of this coral dying, shows how much damage is happening in the islands. If we don’t do something, it will only get worse.”

When she started her activism at 10, Aniva was surprised to discover that her primary school was not proactive in including the environment in their curriculum and there was not much education about climate change at her school. So, she made it her mission to do something about it,

“I started off with a Science Fair Project where I calculated people’s carbon footprint in Samoa and continued speaking about our environment in speech competitions. I also started an environmental club – called Eco Toa which we encouraged people to recycle and helped with the campaign to eradicate the use of plastic bags.”

Four years ago, she moved to New Zealand with her family and attended Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland. Last year, she made a difference at the affluent school when she became the first Samoan student to be named head girl.

She was shocked to be given the leadership role, as she recalls when she first started at the school, no one wanted to be her friend because of her humble upbringing and the fact that she looked and sounded different from the other students.

“The girls who attend Diocesan School for Girls usually have grown up in central Auckland all of their lives. I wasn’t your typical Diocesan girl,” she says.

“By being named as the head girl, I wanted to let other young women know that it’s okay to be unique and different, that it’s okay to stand up for what you believe.”

Aniva took the leadership role in her stride and used it as another platform to promote and advocate for the environment.  Last year, she was named a UNICEF Pacific youth advocate focusing on Climate Change and won the Emerging Leadership Prize at the annual SunPix Awards.

Aniva says that everything that she does comes from her love of the Samoan culture and her Pacific community. This year, Aniva will be attending the University of Auckland to study law, Pacific studies and geography.

“I want to become an environmental lawyer and maybe move into politics. I want to learn more about the scientific aspect of our environment so I can have more depth and knowledge. I want to advocate from a Pacific lens to try and make the world a better and cleaner place.”

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