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COP23 and beyond

Dr Joseph Veramu
Thursday, January 25, 2018

Fiji was the first small island state chosen to preside over the COP23 meeting held in Bonn in November 2017. One question I get asked frequently is: "What has Fiji achieved in facilitating this global meeting?"

Before I discuss the Talanoa Dialogue process that will also be part of COP24 in Poland, I will provide some brief background information to anchor my responses in the appropriate context.

Negotiating Paris Agreement details

The main aim of COP23 was for developed and developing states to negotiate the finer details of how the Paris Agreement will be implemented from 2020 onwards.

Secondly, the meeting was to evaluate the progress of pledges the various states made since COP21.

Why was Fiji chosen? Fiji is the economic and technological hub of the Pacific and is also a conduit for sustainable development in the region. Fiji has always punched above its weight in the international arena contributing to international efforts to establish peace and security.

Fiji's COP23 presidency also provided an empowering voice to the struggles of small island nations who face the effects of climate change on a daily basis. Our PM Voreqe Bainimarama also provided a robust voice for the 7.5 billion people who call Earth their home.

We are all in the same canoe

Fiji reminded the world through the display of the drua at the Fiji pavilion in Bonn that, "We are all in the same canoe."

If we lose this one, there is no other planet to go to! To reinforce this point, Mr Bainimarama had said, "Climate change isn't about politics. It's about our existence, our survival and saving something for our children and their children."

The same message was reiterated by 12-year-old primary school student Timoci Naulusala when he told world leaders that "it's not about how or who, but it's about what you can do as an individual".

The London Guardian reported that Timoci's speech almost upstaged the speeches of Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Macron. The message was very clear.

While governments worked to reduce carbon emissions, the 7.5 billion people in the world must also individually take moral responsibility to reduce their own carbon footprints and bring pressure to bear on their governments to do the right thing.

Fiji's achievements in the global meeting

Fiji's greatest contribution to COP23 is in providing an affirming process for evaluating the progress made by the individual states in achieving the pledges they made at the Paris Agreement.

Why is the talanoa process important? Because the pledges that nations signed at the Paris Agreement were not a legally binding contract. It requires their goodwill to nurture a healthy Earth for current and future generations.

The Talanoa Dialogue will be carried over to COP24 that will be held in Poland this year. It is more flexible and allows ministers to be directly invited to react to the climate change assessments of the collective effort of states to reduce carbon emissions.

This will enable states to be more action-oriented in aligning their climate policies to their commitments to the Paris Agreement. More importantly for the Talanoa Dialogue, non-state actors and NGOs will be allowed to input into the process with their interventions on challenges and opportunities that decarbonisation signifies for the workplace.

It is easy to be cynical of the pledges made by states not to exceed the temperature increase above the limits of 2C. The reality is that carbon emissions are affected by the fossil fuels used in economic development and the key to reducing it is to phase out fossil fuels like coal and petroleum to be replaced by cleaner energy like solar and wind power.

The European Union and China have played significant roles in moving towards cleaner energy. The Pacific Islands Development Forum might like to consider a follow-up Pacific Blue Economy Conference given the resounding success of the one held in August at the GPH.

It is positive news that at COP23 there were 19 nations including Canada and the UK that formed the Global Alliance to Power Past Coal.

They agreed to stop using coal to generate power by 2030. It is hoped that Australia will join the group soon. The other good news is that 21 states had ratified the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol to replace hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

This is a very powerful greenhouse gas which has been used very widely in airconditioning and as refrigerants. The protocol requires these countries to use cleaner alternatives to HFCs.

Perhaps the biggest news of 2017 was US President Donald Trump towering like Lord Voldemort to announce plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

The Washington Post reported that, "the White House declaration has only accelerated the determination of many American stakeholders to reach their climate goals. Nine states, hundreds of cities and over 1700 corporations in the US have declared they will continue to implement policies and practices aimed at decarbonisation consistent with the commitments of the Paris accord".

Mr Bainimarama's meeting with California Governor Jerry Brown in the US in June 2017 was an affirming process for the groundswell of support for environmental sustainability of Americans at all levels.

Our PM had said: "People of all walks of life in America have spoken very loudly, telling the world that America will continue to tackle climate change."

At that meeting, 10 US state governors and 61 mayors of major US cities proclaimed their support for the COP23 initiative.

Fiji was one of the first developing nations to receive a grant of $31m from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) as part of a loan from the ADB for the urban water supply and wastewater management project that will benefit a third of Fiji's population of 860,000.

Preety Bhandari, director of ADB's climate change and disaster risk management team, said part of the success of the joint submission to the GCF was due to the "determination of the Fijian Government to link the resilient water supply and wastewater project to climate considerations. A unique feature of this project was that the Fijian Government showed very clearly that it was trying to integrate climate considerations into its normal development projects".

Doubtless it was a challenging assignment for a small island nation to preside over COP23 with about 200 nations in attendance.

As the Talanoa Dialogue moves to COP24 in Poland, we can be assured that the "Bula spirit" will infuse the discussions on pledges and commitments to the Paris Agreement.

* Dr Joseph Veramu is a policy consultant and can be contacted on joseph.veramu@outlook.com. Views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.








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