Sydney, Wednesday 5 June 2024: Cynthia Houniuhi, a young Indigenous woman from the Solomon Islands, takes centre stage at this year’s prestigious Talbot Oration at the Australian Museum (AM) on World Environment Day, sharing her insights and ambitions in seeking climate justice for the Pacific Islands.

Named in the TIME100 NEXT list in 2023, Cynthia Houniuhi is President of the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change (PISFCC), a group of 27 law students from the University of the South Pacific who were inspired by a university project to campaign for the future of the Pacific Islands. Joined by students and young people across the Pacific, the PISFCC has grown into a globally recognised climate change advocacy organisation.

“Cynthia is at the forefront of the movement to ensure that protection from climate change is understood as a human right. She also epitomises the power of the Pacific and the impact of youth advocacy,” Kim McKay AO, Director and CEO of the Australian Museum, said.

“Cynthia Houniuhi is an important voice, and we are pleased to welcome her to present at the Australian Museum’s Talbot Oration. Through the work of the PISFCC, these young people have deftly negotiated the international legal system to ensure world leaders understand their obligations to future generations and the future of our planet.”

Cynthia Houniuhi’s work with the PISFCC began in March 2019 by persuading leaders of the Pacific Island Forum to take a request to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) for a resolution to ask the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to make clear member nations’ obligations to protect the climate system – not only under the Paris Agreement but under all international law.

Cynthia Houniuhi is President of the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change (PISFCC)
Pacific Perspective: This year’s Talbot Oration at the Australian Museum features climate change activist Cynthia Houniuhi, president and founding member of the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change. Image: Supplied

Achieving this milestone with unanimous agreement from all leaders in the Pacific, Cynthia and her fellow students helped secure the UNGA Resolution on 29 March 2023.

The Resolution to the ICJ expressed “profound alarm” that greenhouse gas emissions are still rising and noted with “utmost concern” the scientific consensus. They requested the ICJ compile an Advisory Opinion to consolidate and clarify the legal obligations of States to protect the climate system, and to outline the legal consequences for causing harm through act or omission to States (particularly vulnerable states such as the Pacific Islands).

“Our work is about protecting the future. We want to change international law and establish the foundation of an international system that countries use when dealing with climate change,” Cynthia Houniuhi said.

“This campaign’s hope is to encourage more people across the world to come together to fight climate change and work to solve the biggest problem of our time.”

Achieving a historic unanimous agreement from the UNGA, the first advisory opinion request of its kind to be passed, Cynthia and the PISFCC focused efforts on ensuring the ICJ received written statements from nations and authorised international organisations supporting their cause.

Cynthia Houniuhi speaking at COP27
Cynthia Houniuhi, President of the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change (PISFCC) and one of 27 lawyers from the University of the South Pacific who initiated the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion (ICJAO) speaking at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27). Image: Supplied
© Cynthia Houniuhi

In March this year, the ICJ received the highest number of written statements ever received on an advisory proceeding.

In taking their cause to the International Court of Justice, PISFCC has mobilised young people across the globe to take up the fight against the terrible inheritance the current rise of global warming promises future generations.

“We now have members in every Pacific Island country and from all levels of education, from primary and high schools to postgraduate university students. The people of the Pacific understand the critical nature of this issue, we need the rest of the world to also understand,” Cynthia Houniuhi said.

Dr Jenny Newell, Curator for Climate Change at the Australian Museum’s Climate Solution Centre, congratulated Cynthia Houniuhi and the PISFCC for their remarkable achievements.

“Cynthia and her colleagues have demonstrated the power of advocacy. They are ensuring that leaders and decision makers across the world understand their legal obligations to take action to tackle climate change and the legal consequences of failing to act. Inaction consigns Pacific Island communities to incalculable losses.

“The PISFCC team are an excellent model for all of us to understand the power of collective activism and we are grateful to Cynthia for graciously sharing her experiences at this year’s Talbot Oration,” said Dr Jenny Newell.

The Talbot Oration will be held on Wednesday 5 June from 6.30pm-8pm in the Australian Museum’s Hintze Hall. Following Cynthia Houniuhi’s address, she will be joined by a panel of fellow climate campaigners, including ABC Radio Breakfast presenter Craig Reucassel, who produced Big Weather and How to Survive It and the War on Waste series; and Richie Merzian, International Director at the Smart Energy Council in a discussion facilitated by 10 News

First presenter Narelda Jacobs OAM. Named in honour of former Australian Museum Director Professor Frank Talbot AM, this annual oration before an audience of 300 guests celebrates Talbot’s commitment to, and achievements in, marine research and environmental studies.

For more information, visit the Australian Museum website.

Download the media release

About the Australian Museum

The Australian Museum (AM) was founded in 1827 and is the nation’s first museum. It is internationally recognised as a natural science and culture institution focused on Australia and the Pacific. As custodian of more than 22 million objects and specimens, the AM is uniquely positioned to provide a greater understanding of the region through its scientific research, exhibitions, and public and education programs. Through the Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI), the AM also plays a leading role in conserving Australia’s biodiversity through understanding the environmental impacts of climate change, potential bio-security threats and invasive species. Visit Australian Museum for more information.

Media Contacts

Australian Museum:

Clare Patience, Head of Communications
0408 846 224
E Clare.Patience@Australian.Museum