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Benefits of Bonn

Professor Biman Prasad
Friday, March 09, 2018

SO far all we have heard back here on ground zero, immediately after COP23, were unsurprisingly glowing accounts of the UNFCCC 23rd session of the Conference of Parties as presided over by our Prime Minister, backed up by the Minister for Climate Change as the Fiji head of delegation in Bonn.

Naturally, the business-as-usual approach for the political spin that we are now accustomed and immune to, is designed to hype up positivity with tuppeny photo opportunities, while taking advantage of the general lack of understanding of the majority of the population.

The Attorney-General and Fiji head of delegation has publicly remarked that people are being too critical and need to analyse what actually happened and the outcomes. But there have been too many credible reports damning Fiji's lethargic participation in the actual negotiations. Instead of defending our sovereignty as a party to the UNFCCC, our efforts were impartial because of the presidency.

I have had views from a wide range of individuals and experts from Government, NGOs, members of the youth groups and others who were at COP23 and have read the many reports and analyses published by independent think tanks and experts.

There is no dispute the first presidency by a small island developing state (SIDS) not only invoked the expected romanticism, but generated huge expectations and opportunities. In spite of the lack of genuine consultations with SIDS, either in New York or at Marrakech to harness our regional solidarity and to grasp the opportunity as a collective, these countries remained graciously magnanimous in their support for Fiji.

In the lead-up to the COP, Pacific leaders were hurriedly marshalled together at a Climate Action Pacific Partnership (CAPP) event held last July at the GPH, in Suva. This turned out to be a platform where Fiji merely articulated its views on its approach and priority areas for the COP, which at that stage was pointedly bland, bereft of expert debate and was not even privy to proper parliamentary oversight. The CAPP event was merely part of the advocacy agenda of the high level climate champion, and was similarly devoid of the linkages to the substantive negotiations, which is where the real decisions are made. The meeting lacked the genuine engagement of Pacific SIDS, and I know many countries left disappointed.

In spite of the vain attempts to inject the Pacific flavour, I am told there was no Pacific pavilion in Bonn, unlike in Morocco last year where there was an impressive Africa Pavilion. Instead in Bonn, there was a Fiji Pavilion yet many of the Pacific countries like Kiribati, Palau and Tuvalu held side-events on their own, and were disgracefully left out in the cold, not featuring as part of the side event schedules at the Fiji Pavilion.

Would it not have been an opportune moment on the part of Fiji to recognise, respect and reciprocate to make this a truly Pacific or SIDS COP? Respect, recognition and reciprocity are intrinsically fundamental Pacific values that were probably lost on the coterie of international advisers crowding the Fiji delegation list.

Sound bites that echoed the narrative of the presidency and his team, lauding the talanoa spirit could be viewed as empty for our immediate Pacific neighbours and Caribbean cousins.

Also alarming was the evidently large cabal of international consultants brought in to assist in the planning for the COP23 ahead of our and regional citizens.

The A-G and COP23 Fiji head of Delegation had remarked Fiji had empowered many SIDS with a voice in the COP23 process. This is a strange statement given that it is Fiji which obviously needed to contract "unFijian Made" back-up for the process.

As alluded to also in a previous article, Fiji's contributions in the negotiations prior to COP23 have been largely mute. Even after Marrakech, when countries were requested to provide views on particular issues, a quick perusal of the submissions shows Fiji made not a single one.

Many of our Pacific negotiators are now veterans of the UNFCCC process and are extremely well versed on many of the issues and strategies for negotiations. In recognition of their expertise many Pacific Islanders have stepped up to the plate and held roles as chairs, group conveners, or theme co-ordinators during COP23. Sadly, the same cannot be said for our own people despite our huge delegation.

Our lack of empowerment in the negotiations is evident by our marked absence as bona fide players in the various negotiation streams. If there was an internal understanding that our participation in the negotiations was to be restrained, it presents a sad indictment for taxpayers.

It is clear from the Fiji Pavillion schedules, that the Fiji delegation probably prioritised the side-events, rather than actively engaging and managing the negotiation strategy.

COP23 was a great opportunity for Fiji to walk the talanoa spirit talk and have an inclusive, transparent negotiation team comprising national civil society, business, Government and independent experts. A quick perusal of the official List of Participants dated November 17 shows a heavy imprint of expats who probably had little to no exposure of our national environmental context and the work happening on the ground which could have enhanced our negotiation approaches. Whose capacity did we really build then?

Our youths, our future generation of leaders who will be holding the reins at these negotiations in a few years to come, and who freely provided the PM with numerous PR photo opportunities were rewarded with very restrictive entry to the Bonn zone only. It was a huge lost opportunity in which to mentor our young people, or at the very least, expose them to what can be a very confusing technical maze of processes, so they are ready the next time around.

In terms of transparency, some Pacific Island parties innovatively used social media actively to keep their media and taxpayers updated on the issues key to their negotiation priorities. With all the Government PR resources on hand in Bonn, our Fiji head of delegation was unable to do much to showcase accountability or concern for the people by way of negotiation updates, whose mandate ultimately sent them all to Bonn.

In terms of the legacy and ability to progress the critical issues for SIDS during their own presidency, Fiji was a huge disappointment. Let me outline a few areas where Fiji was expected to show bold leadership but was found sorely wanting.

* Proffesor Biman Prasad is the National Federation Party leader. The views expressed are the author's and not of this newspaper.

m Continued tomorrow

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