By Caitlin Zera                      December 14, 2015

As the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (colloquially known as “The Paris Climate Talks” and officially abbreviated as COP21) wraps up at the end of this week, here are two films to watch that shed light on the social and economic realities of climate change already being felt by island communities and coastal nations across the globe.

Sun Come Up (2011)
Directed by Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger
Runtime: 38 minutes

The Island President (2012)
Directed by Jon Shenk
Runtime: 1 hour 41 minutes

The documentaries Sun Come Up (2011) and The Island President (2012) feature the citizens of the Carteret and Maldives, island communities who are on the frontlines of global climate change and part of the growing movement for climate justice. While many of the discussions in Paris have focused on getting the international community to commit to a target of no more than 2℃ warming, the reality remains that even a 1.5℃ warming will seriously impact much of the world’s population, with island/coastal communities and the world’s poor disproportionately affected in adverse ways. These documentaries present human stories behind the implications of 1.5℃ warming.

Sun Come Up is a short documentary film about the Carteret Islanders and their efforts to relocate their entire community as their South Pacific Ocean island home becomes increasingly inhospitable due to rising sea levels and changing climate. The film introduces the central consequence of climate change for island communities: displacement. Sun Come Up takes viewers through the immense economic and cultural challenges the Islanders face as they look to move their community to higher ground in Bougainville (an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea).

The film is thorough in its examination of these challenges, covering many issues not discussed in mainstream conversations about “climate change refugees/migrants.” The Islanders must negotiate with the Bougainville government where geographically they will resettle, how their currency will be converted, and which families will be among the first to move. The Islanders also face the difficulties of how their culture, which is so tied to the environment of their island home, will change with their relocation.

Where Sun Come Up focuses on the struggles of actual relocation, The Island President focuses on the struggle to get international climate policy agreements in place to reduce carbon emissions and aid vulnerable communities with their climate change-induced relocations.

The Island President follows President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives as he works tirelessly to bring international attention to issues of climate change and the consequent displacement of island communities. Released in 2012, the film covers President Nasheed’s journey to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit and is especially appropriate viewing in light of COP21. The film delves deeply into international politics and the inadequacy of international climate change agreements to date.
Both films provide much needed insight into what is at stake during COP21.