Benefits from Bonn

SOME of the new initiatives such as the Powering Past Coal Alliance, would have happened no matter who held the presidency and is not a direct result of Fiji’s position. Fiji does not use coal, and presumably the A-G saw no harm in joining this initiative, underscoring the lukewarm response on the part of Fiji to this and many other credible platforms such as the High Ambition Coalition and the High Vulnerability Group. Becoming members of these groups doesn’t prove anything. What matters is the genuine contribution and advocacy of these based on robust data and evidence.

A result of the Republic of Marshall Island’s (RMI’s) record of leadership in the High Ambition Coalition in the lead up to Paris and more recently their steadfast support to reducing emissions from shipping and the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol is that RMI is going to host the first Centre for Sustainable Shipping , generously funded by the EU and other donors.

It was further concerning to note that Fiji decided to launch its five and 20-year National Development Plan (NDP) much expounded upon in the Budget session documents, but lacking in substance on its form. The dubious statistics cited in the NDP launched to an international audience and riding roughshod over the people for who it is ultimately intended through Parliament, could not even await the 2017 census results as a credible uniform baseline. I gather also that a Fiji vulnerability assessment was also launched, about which no one in Fiji seems to have a clue.

COPs are a good global platform to showcase climate change initiatives by way of side-events. Of course, the side event space is a heavily contested one and it is easy to get drowned out but what draws crowds are new idea’s or approaches. Did we miss the canoe on this one, and conveniently forget to showcase some of the ground-up innovations of community based adaptation and resilience initiatives post Severe TC Winston or was it easier to showcase despair?

The World Bank Virtual Reality video, while admirable in terms of cutting edge technology, would be lost on the vast majority of people here, in whose name this video was produced and for whom VR glasses are really not a priority.

Real talanoa

The so called “Talanoa Dialogue” is merely a re-brand of the “facilitative dialogue” that was already scheduled for 2018. COP23 was supposed to provide clarity on the process, however the informal note released in Bonn is breathtakingly simplistic. The reality is that conversations about raising ambitions to curb emissions are hard and confronting, and need astute and seasoned climate diplomacy based on a footprint of trust and respect with other State parties.

We all know that COP23 was merely a step in the two-three year timeframe for the finalisation of the “Paris Rulebook”. A great degree of honesty is required in accepting that COP23 was not supposed to come up with any major conclusions, most of which will happen at COP24, if the Fiji presidency is to learn from its Bonn performance and steer the canoe back on course.

The idea of the potential benefits to the tourism industry because of the enhanced awareness about Fiji in Bonn could have been directly realised if we had hosted the event here. After all, PNG hosted the APEC and Samoa hosted the UN SIDS meeting by bringing in luxury cruise liners to supplement accommodation. Notwithstanding this lost opportunity, and noting that Fiji’s visibility as a nation may have spiked temporarily, it is a steep price to pay. Imagine what our people still struggling to rebuild after Severe TC Winston could do with the extra $57m, and how many adaptation projects we could have undertaken as a way to scale up national resilience?

The bula signs and smiling Fijian faces sprawled all over Bonn, the cultural items (notably not entirely representative of All Fijians) at the Fiji Pavilion, and the Presidency’s slogan of the “Talanoa Spirit”, may have struck some kind of cord, but it now falls on the Government to follow through. From the COP23, transparency; a genuine spirit of inclusive conversations; and the freedom and rights enjoyed by everyone, must echo here in Fiji.

On same canoe to COP24?

The next 12 months will show the real class of leadership of the Fijian presidency as it navigates through many contentious issues and attempt to galvanise effort towards convergence on some of the critical issues. Chairing plenaries at COP sessions, reading out carefully crafted words produced by the secretariat, and gavelling through decisions after these have been negotiated, is the easy bit.

To get to COP24 and handover a well maintained canoe, with a global crew all rowing in the same direction is the real test of the presidency. For starters, we should begin by bringing all Fijians on board. I have said before that we have many capable and talented Fijians and regional citizens, organisations, institutions and groups, who have far more experience than the government team, who are only too happy to assist.

The ball is in the COP23 president’s court.

* The views expressed are the author’s and not of this newspaper.