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COP28: A Personal Journey for the Kingdom of Tonga and the Pacific

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Uili Lousi and Lee Stewart at the recent Climate Reality Meetup as part of the Auckland Climate Festival.

Climate Reality Meetup

I'm headed to COP28, but this trip isn't just another professional obligation – it's a deeply personal mission, fuelled by a profound sense of purpose and to give a huge underdog a helping hand. Earlier this year, I found myself in the heart of Tonga, alongside my fellow Climate Reality Mentor and Tongan Climate Ambassador, Uili Lousi. It was a moment of awakening when Uili reached out with a simple yet powerful request: “Lee, the Kingdom of Tonga needs you.”

The devastation wrought by the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano in January 2022 was beyond imagination. Villages and resorts vanished overnight, and the sea unleashed a tide of plastic waste, a grim reminder of the wider world's neglect. To learn more about this tragedy, I invite you to read my previous blog post.

In Tonga, my role has transformed into something extraordinary: helping the nation rise above the overwhelming waste crisis. After 20 years of feeling constrained as a corporate sustainability professional, the opportunity to apply fresh, unbridled thinking to aid a nation in desperate need has been truly liberating.

I'm thrilled to share that we've developed an ambitious plan for Tonga to emerge as the “World's First Circular Kingdom.” Our Zero Waste Roadmap for Tonga by 2040 focuses on key areas: robust governance and legal frameworks, community-focused education and awareness, strategic infrastructure investment, and a holistic approach to circular economy practices.

These initiatives are interlinked, with significant milestones set for the present and future – 2025, 2030, and 2040. With proper funding and partners, we believe Tonga can go fully circular with glass within just six months, creating new micro-businesses, jobs, and a brighter future. Give us another six months and we estimate we can turn close to 30% of the plastic waste into a viable resource. More importantly, this project offers hope to the resilient people of Tonga and sets a precedent for other Pacific nations.

We are bringing this vision to COP28, and I am proud to be part of the Tongan delegation. We seek not just funding but partnerships to breathe life into Tonga's dream of a zero waste, circular economy. Our goal extends beyond Tonga; it's a model for every nation struggling with waste management.

If you're at COP28 and interested in our project or can offer support, please reach out. We're eager to discuss our vision for a sustainable Tonga and Pacific.

Mo e taki malu’i he fonua, mo e taki malu’i he tahi moana

“Protect the land and the shallow waters, protect the deep ocean.”

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