Anna Cusack: The Pacific COP

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Pacific nations are calling for “real solutions that will empower us to make sustainable choices as we adapt to our changing environment”

- Emeretta Cross, 22 Sep 2009, email sent to Tuvalu Yahoo Groups mailing list.

The Secretariat of the Pacific Environment Program stated that:

“our first line of defence should be to put in place adaptation measures and work with the international community.”

So how has the international community responded thus far? Climate change in the Pacific has been well documented in Western media, but what frustrates me is that the sinking of Pacific islands below rising tides is too often portrayed as predetermined, rather than something can be prevented. The world has never seen changes in climate patterns such as what we are beginning to experience, and the future outcomes for nations cannot be foretold. However, there is a pressing need for greater international action, as it is industrialised nations who have played the biggest role in the build-up of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere.

In 2016, America and China combined were responsible for 44 percent of international global emissions, while the Pacific nations, who are on the front lines of climate change, account for only 0.03 percent of emissions. Since the umbrella United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed in 1992, there has been sluggish international action through 22 Conference of the Parties (COP) to combat the impacts of climate change. Although funds like the Green Climate Fund have been established and countries are committing to cut emissions through the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated that in 2015 USD$5.3 trillion was still being spent on subsidising the fossil industry. In 2016, the highest levels of carbon emissions in the earth's atmosphere in 800,000+ years were recorded. This lack of commitment cannot be good enough.

Fittingly, this year the Presidency country is Fiji and this conference has been deemed “the Pacific COP” (although it is being held at the UNFCCC headquarters in Bonn due to capacity issues). The starting point of climate negotiations must be listening to the nations that are bearing the cost of international emissions. And the Pacific have a rallying call to action, saying “we are not drowning we are fighting." They are calling for mitigation through cutting emissions, adaptation funding, and some nations as a last resort, want pathways to migrate with dignity. Through organisations like 350 Pacific, Pacific people are actively fighting to protect their countries. Niue selected the theme of “resilient Pacific people” for the Communique of the Ninth Conference of the Pacific Community, illustrating the Pacific’s focus on adaptation, innovation and traditional knowledge. However Pacific voices have been largely drowned out by the dominant fatalist narrative in the international community that sees the vanishing of islands as a foregone conclusion. Through inaction and by sidelining Pacific voices, the international community is undermining the fundamental right that Pacific nations have to self-determination.

In just a couple of days I have the honour of getting to see how the Pacific COP will play out and to take part in the action. What will America be like now they are pulling out of the Paris Agreement, although it will still take a few years to fully take effect? How will having Fiji as the Presidency country shape the dialogue? And will our country fairly listen to and work with our neighbours in the Pacific?

Our new Government has made bold and exciting promises about having zero carbon emissions by 2050, setting up an independent board through a Zero Carbon Act (similar to the Climate Change Act in the UK) to create emission targets, and to bring agriculture under the Emission Trading Scheme. However, New Zealand has not always played nice at COPs, such as in 2012 when New Zealand won the overall Fossil of the Year Award with Canada, for running a “campaign of extreme selfishness and irresponsibility”, and refusing to commit to the second period of emission reductions in the Kyoto Protocol. As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has recognised that climate change is “our generation’s nuclear free moment”, I am hopeful that that her Government will be committed to systemic changes to really address the inequalities that underpin the experience of climate change. I look forward to seeing this leadership over the next three weeks and I hope that this COP the voices of Pacific nations will be given the weight they deserve, rather than self-interest and fatalism prevailing. We will see!

“There are still some who believe that climate change is a distant threat but for us it is a present threat. It’s happening now and our people are being affected now”

- Hon. Tessie Eria Lambourne, Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Immigration for the Government of Kiribati.

All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.

Posted on November 3, 2017 and filed under UN Climate Talks 2017.