Identifying our friends in the climate change debate

By Alexander Rheeney 17 December 2018, 12:00AM

In a time when the world critically needed leadership by the planet’s biggest carbon emitters, everyone failed to show-up.

Vulnerable island states—from the Pacific to the Indian Oceans and to the Caribbean—whose future ironically now lies in the hands of those who couldn’t care less, made emphatic and emotional presentations at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC).

After two weeks of intense and often heated negotiations at Katowice, Poland—and despite the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—delegates representing close to 200 countries settled on a “Paris Rulebook”, but failed to reach a comprehensive agreement on cutting the use of fossil fuels and doing more to address deforestation.

Five Pacific Island leaders—Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna, Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sosene Sopoaga and Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu—ensured the region was represented at the important summit. 

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi used the Conference to again call for oceans to become an integral part of the continuing climate change agenda.

“I reiterate the importance of the inextricable links between ocean and climate. A key focus therefore of our engagement of Pacific in the COP process is on this link and the need for oceans to become an integral part of the continuing climate change agenda. 

“The launching of the Oceans Pathway at COP 23 led by Pacific leaders sought to address and strengthen actions related to the ocean–climate nexus,” he said.

Australia’s role within the region was not lost on the Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sosene Sopoaga, who called for genuine partnerships to address the effects of climate change in the Pacific Islands.

“We cannot be regional partners under this step-up initiative — genuine and durable partners — unless the Government of Australia takes a more progressive response to climate change. They know very well that we will not be happy as a partner, to move forward, unless they are serious,” said Mr Sopoaga said.

And the Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu raised eyebrows when he singled out the United States and its negotiators at the climate change conference in Poland. 

“It pains me deeply to have watched the people of the United States and other developed countries across the globe suffering the devastating impacts of climate-induced tragedies, while their professional negotiators are here at COP24 putting red lines through any mention of loss and damage in the Paris guidelines and square brackets around any possibility for truthfully and accurately reporting of progress against humanity’s most existential threat,” he reportedly said.

It was a trailblazing performance on the international stage by the Pacific Island leaders, whose populations continue to be challenged by a human-induced phenomenon i.e. climate change that is not of their doing. 

Sadly, the Pacific Islands biggest neighbour in Australia clocked off, even before the climate change summit began in Poland. The climate change challenges that small island states in the region have to tackle have become miniscule to the Scott Morrison government in Canberra. All that talk last month on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Summit in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea—where American Vice President Mike Pence and the Australian Prime Minister announced renewed focus on the region to stymie the influence of Chinese in the Pacific—appears to be nothing but more rhetoric from the region’s two powers.

Thanks to the now concluded United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland, we should now know who our real friends are, and move forward to harness opportunities that could come from such partnerships. Considering the steps that China is taking to embrace the 2015 Paris Agreement, perhaps, it would not hurt sassing Chinese innovation in energy solutions that would mitigate the effects of climate change in the Pacific Islands. 

China is a world leader in solar energy and has already built capacity of approximately 130 GW, which is reportedly greater than America (about 60 GW) and Japan (46 GW). There are opportunities for Pacific Island economies including Samoa to tap into China’s solar energy expertise and innovation.

Most countries that attended the COP24 in Katowice, Poland aren’t satisfied with the outcomes from that international summit. While the jury is still out on the “Paris Rulebook”—which a lot of nations are hoping will progress movement to the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement—we in the Pacific Islands can only hope for the best and do what we can (in our own backyards) to make our Pacific and the world a better place for us and the generation to come.

Have a fantastic Monday Samoa and God bless.

By Alexander Rheeney 17 December 2018, 12:00AM

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