I am encouraged to see the great interest that has been shown in recent weeks with regard to the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Declaration on Climate Change Action (Declaration), which was adopted by Forum Leaders in Port Moresby on 10 September, 2015.
Climate change is here. Even with the current average global warming of less than 1 degree, Pacific island states are already dealing with serious consequences. In Port Moresby, Leaders reiterated their concerns that climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific. Leaders called for the adoption of an ambitious and legally binding agreement at the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Inclusive and consultative process
The Forum Declaration originated with a submission from civil society through the Framework for Pacific Regionalism. The proposal called on Leaders to issue a high level political statement on climate change for the Paris conference (COP 21).
Much of the work that resulted in the Declaration came from Pacific governments in an intensive and consultative process of discussions, submissions of country views and revisions to the draft. The process was further complemented by a civil society position paper on climate change and a briefing to Leaders led by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).
At the Forum meeting in Port Moresby, Leaders had extensive engagement and robust discussion. Despite the diversity of membership Leaders reached a successful outcome in adopting the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Declaration on Climate Change Action.
To some extent, the Leaders’ dialogue was an illustration of what the global negotiations in Paris will be like. The reality of the UNFCCC process is that the negotiations require the consensus of all Parties (developed and developing nations) and their perspectives will not always be in harmony.
The Forum Declaration complements the positions of Pacific Island Countries and Territories for COP 21 as expressed through other declarations (acknowledged in para 10 of the Forum Declaration). The numerous declarations issued by the region demonstrate the Pacific’s frustration with the slow progress of the UNFCCC negotiations and the need for urgent action. The Declaration therefore enhances the region’s position for Paris. Similar supportive positions by other emerging Pacific partners will strengthen the region’s position in Paris.
Key aspects of the Declaration
With the Declaration endorsed by 14 Pacific Leaders and 2 senior Ministers there is political weight behind the Declaration, which places it in the league of other declarations on climate change issued by other regions.
Having a strong and clear consensus on key issues for COP 21 by like-minded developing states is important. Convincing developed countries to publicly acknowledge and support the positions of Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries, is the challenge leading up to Paris. A challenge the Forum Declaration has taken initial steps to address with Australia and New Zealand’s support (as developed country Parties to the UNFCCC). Building the necessary coalitions to support positions shared by like-minded developing country Parties, including the Pacific island states, is essential for an ambitious and timely outcome from the Paris conference.
Apart from the temperature goal, which has been the primary focus of most recent media commentary, the Declaration expresses, amongst other things, Forum Leaders’:
On loss and damage, the Declaration acknowledges the ongoing work of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on Loss and Damage, a mechanism that Pacific island states through likeminded developing country groups had been calling for in previous COPs prior to Warsaw (COP 19 in 2013). Tuvalu is a member of the Executive Committee that supports the WIM. The reference to loss and damage as a critical and standalone element in the Paris Outcome ensures it will encompass actions that may occur in the intermediate period prior (2016 to 2020) to the commencement of the new climate change agreement in 2020, noting that the agreement will be an integral part of the Paris Outcome.
Furthermore the Declaration recognises that “an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius would severely exacerbate the particular challenges facing the most vulnerable smaller island states of the Pacific and that all effort be made to stay within the global temperature goal”.
Having developed countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, publicly declaring that an increase of 1.5 degrees would severely impact Smaller Island States of the Pacific is critical for seeking similar support from developed countries and other larger greenhouse gas emitters for the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, recognising that the current negotiated global temperature goal noted by the 2014 UN Climate Change Conference in Lima has a provision for ‘below 1.5 degree Celsius’ instead of just ‘below 2 degrees’.Therefore the Declaration contributes to the momentum of Pacific voices going to Paris.
Where to from here?
We have just under 60 days left before the Paris conference convenes. The time for declarations is almost over and specific actions to inform and influence the Paris outcome must now become our focus. Forum Island Countries must play a key role in garnering support for the region’s positions at COP 21 through their bilateral and multilateral engagements leading up to Paris.
The Forum Secretariat is committed to work with Member governments and the Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific, in particular SPREP, SPC and the University of the South Pacific (USP), to put forward a strong and unified message for the region in Paris.
In the margins of the current 70th United Nations General Assembly in New York, Forum Leaders have met with the UN Secretary General and other networks of international partners. This has been another opportunity to raise the profound effects of climate change on Forum Island Countries. I trust the good intentions articulated both at the U.N, and during the post Forum dialogue with our Partners, will translate into a greater coalition of countries willing to support the Pacific in Paris.