Photo: Timoci Naulusala from Fiji addressing UN Climate Conference. Credit: UNFCCC - Photo: 2017

Fijian Presidency Lends New Dimension to Climate Negotiations

By Ramesh Jaura

BONN (IDN) – Twenty-five years ago, governments came together at the Earth Summit in Rio driven by the idea that the world needed to change the way it was treating its environment.

From that idea, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted – “and a movement began. A movement that, two years ago, resulted in the Paris Agreement,” said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa in her opening speech at COP23, the 23rd annual UN Climate Conference.

As the twelve-day Conference under the Presidency of Fiji – backed by the logistical support provided by Germany, which hosts the UNFCCC Secretariat in Bonn – approached its conclusion on November 17, 170 countries had ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement, thus “making it possible that we go from the era of hope… to the era of implementation,” as Espinosa put it, adding that “together with the Sustainable Development Agenda, we have a clear path forward to truly address climate change and sustainable development.”

Yet, it is an incomplete journey – because never have UN Climate Conferences been held with a greater sense of urgency than this time – not only because the U.S. President Donald Trump has decided to opt out of the Paris Agreement, but also as a 12-year-old Timoci Naulusala from Tailevu province in Fiji, stressed in an impassioned plea for climate action:

“The sea is swallowing villages, eating away at shorelines, withering crops. Relocation of people…cries over lost loved ones, dying of hunger and thirst. It’s catastrophic. It’s sad…but its real,” he said, adding: “You may think it will only affect small nations…you are wrong.”

Timoci Naulusala and 10-year-old Shalvi Shakshi were invited to Bonn along with their parents to tell their stories of climate change impacts in Fiji, and how they coped with the devastation of Cyclone Winston. They are calling on world leaders to commit to climate action to protect their homes, and those of all Pacific Island children.

In September, they participated in a nationwide speech competition in Fiji as part of a month of climate action in schools across the country.

UNICEF Pacific Representative, Sheldon Yett, said: “We are really proud of Timoci and Shalvi for so confidently representing their schools, communities, country and region at this global climate conference. They have seen first hand the devastating impacts of climate change in Fiji. Now they are educating their peers on how to prepare for disasters and their stories will move everyone who hears them speak this week in Bonn.”

Four out of the top 10 countries affected by disasters are in the Pacific region: Vanuatu, Tonga, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

According to climate experts, millions of people around the world have suffered – and continue to suffer – from extreme weather events. But this, they say, may only be the start – a preview of what is to come.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported on October 30 that the year 2017 will likely be one of the hottest three years on record, and warned that temperatures could continue to spike, hitting perilous levels by 2100 – unless world leaders take drastic action.

UN Environment’s Emissions Gap Report, released ahead of COP23, alerted that pledges made under the Paris Agreement are only a third of what is required by 2030 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and that as things stand, even full implementation of current national pledges makes a temperature rise of at least 3 degrees Celsius by 2100 very likely.

It is against this backdrop that COP23 President and Prime Minister of Fiji Frank Bainimarama called on governments to make swift progress on taking forward climate action and finalizing the rulebook of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Alluding to the Fijian sailing canoe, or “drua” exhibited at the Bonn climate conference venue, Bainimarama said: “We are all bound by our common interest in reducing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is humanity’s mission. It’s symbolic of the journey we must all make together. With just a couple of days to go, let’s stay the course. Let’s reach our destination.”

This is the first time that a small island developing state has presided over a UN climate change conference.

Concluding the main part of the opening of the high-level segment on November 15, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “The Paris Agreement will only have been a real breakthrough if the agreement is followed up with real action. Constructive, multilateral work under the umbrella of the UN the only way forward.”

Germany’s special role was also highlighted by the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the event – despite that fact that she was involved in tough negotiations with the Green Party and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) to form a coalition government. Merkel announced that Germany would double the amount of climate finance it is providing to developing countries by 2020.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres commended Fiji for assuming the Presidency role – a crucial task and highly symbolic given the risks all island states face from climate change. He said that when he last month visited islands facing the impacts of a warming world – Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica – he was shocked by the hurricane damage he saw.

“The voice of small island states that are on the front lines of climate change must be voice of us all,” he said. “Floods, fires, extreme storms and drought are growing in intensity and frequency. Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are higher than they have been for 800,000 years. Climate change is the defining threat of our time. Our duty – to each other and to future generations – is to raise ambition,” he added.

The UN chief called for more ambition in five specific action areas: Emissions, adaptation to the inevitable impacts of climate change, finance, partnerships and leadership.

Guterres pointed out the good news in the world of climate action. For example, carbon markets are growing and merging and the green bond market is expanding, with this year’s issuance of green bonds already exceeding last year’s record.

He also welcomed the new initiative, led by Germany, to provide insurance against extreme weather events for 400 million more vulnerable people by 2020 announced on November 14 in Bonn, and the Global Climate Action Agenda which was accelerated at COP23, involving regions, cities, business, investors and civil society. All of this is encouraging for governments who are in process of implementing the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Also speaking in Bonn was the President of the UN General Assembly Miroslav Lajčák. He spoke of the massive interest on the part almost all governments in driving forward climate action. He pointed out that the UN General Assembly in New York this year saw the highest number of references to climate change on record – 84% of UN member states highlighted it as a priority, and many of them made calls of support for the Paris Agreement.

On November 15, the First Yearbook of the Marrakesh Partnership for Global Climate Action was presented to the Parties to the Climate Change Convention. It has been developed in consultation and co-operation with coalitions and initiatives who are at the forefront of action, innovation and solutions. It informs Parties about what has been achieved during the year, and spotlights how pre-2020 ambition can be accelerated. It also showcases progress in the run-up to the 2018 ‘Talanoa dialogue’.

Talanoa is a traditional word used in Fiji and the Pacific to reflect a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue. The purpose of Talanoa is to share stories, build empathy and to make wise decisions, which are for the collective good. The process of Talanoa involves the sharing of ideas, skills and experience through storytelling.

During the process, Parties build trust and advance knowledge through empathy and understanding. Blaming others and making critical observations are inconsistent with the building of mutual trust and respect, and therefore inconsistent with the concept of Talanoa.

Observers wondered whether Talanoa, which fosters stability and inclusiveness in relation to dialogue, by creating a safe space embracing mutual respect, would help establish binding rules of the game. [IDN-InDepthNews – 16 November 2016]

Photo: Timoci Naulusala from Fiji addressing UN Climate Conference. Credit: UNFCCC

IDN is the flagship of International Press Syndicate. –

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