Matter of survival
As the deadly Hurricane Irma smashes the Caribbean islands, threatening Puerto Rico and Florida, leaders attending the 48th Pacific Islands Forum Meeting in Apia, have been reminded once more about the “existential threat” climate change poses.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, as the Chairman of Forum Meeting, will host leaders at the Taumeasina Island Resort today, for their annual Leaders Retreat.
And while the stunning views at the resort and Samoan hospitality will set the scene for a beautiful day, the havoc caused by Irma on the other side of the world will not be far from their minds.
For many Pacific Islands, it’s a devastation they have experienced over and over and they know the feeling all too well. The Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland QC, who is from Dominica, did not mince words during an interview with the Samoa Observer in Apia.
“For us, it is literally life and death,” she said. “Other people don’t want to understand it but when we see the hurricanes and the tropical storms, and we see our countries demolished, it’s real for us.
“So we certainly speak with a greater degree of authenticity.
And nobody can speak for us in the way as we can speak for ourselves to help people understand better what it means when your country is basically facing annihilation.”
Having been in Samoa since Sunday and being an interested observer of the discussions at the Forum Meeting, the Secretary General said decisive actions are needed.
“We are in this together,” she said. “And we know it is only if we collaborate in a really concrete, intense way that we will be able to do the things that we need.
None of us have enough money, all of us have Goliath like problems we face in the world today and we are better together.
“I’ve often thought that we need to turn the Commonwealth Secretariat into the stone that we put into David’s sleigh because Goliath can come down if you get the right stone.
“So we need to work together with the leaders to find out what our hopes are, what our aspirations are, what each of us have, what we can share and do together because if we collaborate, I think we can make a real impact.”
Partnerships, she said, are critical in moving forward. She noted that all international agencies have the same aspirations. But aspirations mean nothing without concrete actions.
“We really have to turn those words now into action. What’s our plan? How do we do it? How do we help each other? How do we make sure every single one of us has the best plan we can make by sharing?
“I think sharing what does not work is really important because we are all trying and we’re trying our best and many of the things we are trying will not work and there’s no shame in some things not working.
“But we need to tell each other and that sharing of knowledge I think is very important. We’ve been hesitant to do that in the past but I think we now have no choice.”
Ms. Scotland met with the Chairman of the Forum, P.M. Tuilaepa at the beginning of week.
“I love Samoa,” she said, adding that this is her second visit.
As for the Forum, she said: “There are so many issues in the Pacific, which are of critical importance to all of us, not least climate change which poses an existential threat to small island states in the Pacific.
“There is a real understanding that small developing states are peculiarly vulnerable today. I think it’s worrying for all us that the speed with which climate change is happening has speeded up even since the Paris Agreement in 2015. There is a real urgency in what we are doing.”
At the Commonwealth, the Secretary General said they are looking at how they can meld Commonwealth issues on climate change with oceans. She believes the issues are two sides of the same coin.
“Fourty five of 52 member states are ocean states, and what we see is that if you don’t put these two together, you wont be able to address the problems, particularly in the Pacific and the Caribbean.
“So what we are looking at is we’ve created what we call the Blue Charter. In 2013, Commonwealth created a Commonwealth Charter and many of the elements there are about the oceans.
“We need to highlight how important the ocean is and if we have a Blue Charter which looks at all those issues that are in our Charter but through a blue lens, it might be able to make it more apparent to everyone that this is a critical issue that we are going to have to deal with together.”
Ms. Scotland praised the Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat, Dame Meg Taylor and their approach towards the issue, saying they are doing a “remarkable job.”
“In the Commonwealth, we have been looking at a regenerative approach to development, which really takes into account climate change,” Ms. Scotland said.
“We have all the S.D.Gs, all 17 of them, which we agreed to in September 2015, but if you look at those S.D.GS they are exactly the same aspirations that we signed up to as the Commonwealth in 2013.
“I think it’s so important that the Pacific has taken a leadership role in climate change. It was also all of us in November of 2015 in Malta, we were the first ones who came up and said we needed to have an implementable regime which was enforceable, that we need to have 2 degrees and we needed to have a 1.5degree target.
“That commitment came from us in the Commonwealth and if you look right back to the 1980s it was the Pacific and the Caribbean pushing this agenda hard which is not surprising.”
Secretary General Scotland assured the the Commonwealth is absolutely with the Pacific.
“We are going to fight with and for you. The more of us the better, we represent one third of the world with 2.4billion people so although some of us are rather small we’ve got some big brothers.”
Looking ahead to the Bonn COP 23, there is a lot of work to be done.
“I would really like us to have a commitment to this Blue Charter. We’ve got some drafts; we want to consult with everybody to make sure we get it right. I would love to see an endorsement of that Blue Charter,” she said.
“I would also like to see us adopt the regenerative development approach because we have to mitigate, we have to adapt and we have to do it quickly.
“There is an opportunity for us to integrate what we’re doing in such a way to really restore ecosystems, we help take advantage of opportunities created by the new disruptive technologies.”
According to TechTarget, a disruptive technology is one that displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry or a ground-breaking product that creates a completely new industry.
“People are creating things like carbon eating concrete which will be able to make every building made out of this concrete into a carbon zinc,” said Ms. Scotland.
“There is some clever ideas coming up in terms of how we can enhance the use of renewables, people are hopeful that in two or three years time maybe, we might be able to have cheaper renewable energy than we have fossil fuels.
“I think if we look at adaptation and mitigation, there are ways of us reversing the damage that’s been caused to our environment. We can’t do it straight away but incrementally if we work together we will be able to do it.”
Sharing ideas is critical, the Commonwealth believes.
“The idea of how do we share best practice, how do we share what works. It can’t be just short term, we have to ask what can we do now, what can we do medium term, what do we need long term. So all these things fit in together in a really regenerative pattern.
“What’s fascinating is that we are looking at what people used to do and we’re finding that lots of those traditional methods are the best.
“So how do we integrate them into the new disruptive technology, how do we take advantage of all the knowledge we have.”
About Ms. Scotland
Patricia Janet Scotland was born on the 19th August 1955 in Dominica. She was trained as a lawyer and became the first black woman to be appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 1991. At 35 she was also the youngest woman ever to be made a QC.