COP21: Pacific battles for recognition in new Climate Change agreement

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Pacific climate change reality. Image: Emily Moli/twitter

Report by Pacific Media Watch from Paris

“We are gradually being sidelined, everyone is now claiming that they are the most vulnerable” – Ambassador Feturi Elisaia, Samoa

Although the special circumstances of the Small Islands Developing States was reinforced by the United Nations at the Third UN Conference on SIDS in Samoa last year, the challenge now for the Pacific Islands is to make sure this recognition is clearly spelled out in the new Climate Change Agreement being negotiated in Paris these two weeks.

The 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, also known as COP21 is underway in Paris, France.  By December 11, a new global climate change agreement should be finalised and as those on the frontlines of climate change, the island states are calling for the text to include the wording – Small Islands Developing States” where applicable, throughout the negotiated text.

“The special characteristic that members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) under the UNFCCC process share in common is our vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. It makes no sense therefore to have a new climate change agreement that doesn’t reflect the special realities for SIDS,” said Ambassador Feturi Elisaia, Samoa’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

Samoa, host of the Third UNSIDS Conference is also the birthplace of the SAMOA Pathway – the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action Pathway which reaffirms that the Small Islands Developing States remain a special case for sustainable development in view of their unique and particular vulnerabilities.

“If SIDS are not captured as the most vulnerable group in the Paris agreement that we are negotiating, then something is wrong, somewhere. After all, this is meant to be a climate change agreement, not an economic or investment agreement,” said Ambassador Feturi.

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“Years ago when we said that we were vulnerable because we saw our coastlines were being eroded, we were told to provide the scientific evidence for that. Now that the scientists have spoken that there is such a phenomenon as climate change which is largely caused by manmade actions, we are gradually being sidelined. Everyone is now claiming that they are the most vulnerable.”

Flooded islands
At one metre of sea level rise, 90 percent of Tuvalu will be inundated with similar flooding projected for Kiribati and the Marshall Islands.

cop21 SPREP 425wide

El Nino events will increase the risks posed to Pacific Islands of coral bleaching, tropical cyclones and other extreme weather events such as droughts across the Western Pacific and heavy rains and flooding over a narrow band around the equator.

Economic losses by tropical cyclones in the Pacific islands translate to losses in GDP of 15 – 25 percent, hampering economic development.  The island region is also home to the second most at risk country in the world, Tonga, which facesconstant threats of tropical cyclones and other related climatic hazards, as well as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcano eruptions.

“While everyone is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, no one is more vulnerable than the Small Island Developing States. We contain three of the five world’s lowest lying islands and the Pacific Islands is also home to Tuvalu, the first island forecast to disappear due to the impacts of climate change,” said David Sheppard, Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

“The impacts are being felt by SIDS now – financially, culturally, physically and environmentally.  The new global climate change agreement must reflect and acknowledge the importance of this document to the SIDS.”

Coming close to the end of week one of the UN Climate Negotiations, AOSIS including the Pacific Islands, are negotiating hard to ensure the recognition of their special vulnerability is particularly recognised in the new text.

As Pepetua Latasi, a Chief Negotiator for Tuvalu said:

“We have a big role to play here in Paris, to ensure that SIDS language is included in all parts of the text that comes out.  We have to follow this ongoing discussion that seems to be redefining what vulnerability is here.

“At the UNSIDS Conference in Samoa, world leaders and international organisations all recognised the special circumstances of Small Island Developing States, so to be excluded from this historical climate change agreement is a shame.

“We cannot leave Paris without having SIDS reflected in the new agreement.”

#4PacIslands

SPREP website

Source: Pacific Media Watch 9500

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