Friday, 10 December 2010

Leaders of Samoa, Nauru and Kiribati tell their stories and seek political leadership on climate change

By Makereta Komai, Climate Pasifika Media in Cancun, Mexico

Leaders Dialogue image courtesy of UNFCCC

09 DECEMBER 2010 CANCUN --- Samoan Prime Minister did not mince his words when he told the international community ‘we need your technology but don’t use the islands as a testing ground.’

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi was part of a high level panel of world leaders that’s simultaneously trying to find solutions to reach an acceptable outcome here in Cancun that will reverse the climate crisis.

“Technology must be appropriate and affordable for us in the islands. We should not be used as a dumping ground for obsolete technology, said the Samoan Prime Minister. 

"To benefit from these technologies, we cannot do it alone but need the partnership of the private ector and the multilateral donors", he added.

Also on the panel were the Presidents of Kiribati and Nauru, who spoke from the heart and reminded the international community of their obligations to ensure their nations remain on the face of the earth.

“I have been asked several times in parliament about resources to build sea walls to protect the outer islands from rising sea level. My replies have been yes, we have done the studies and the costs involved but we have no resources."

“It’s now a year after Copenhagen, and we still have not received any o f the promised money", said President Tong.

The Kiribati leader, who is a well known advocate for vulnerable states said the situation is so grim for Kiribati that, ‘as a nation, we might not even be part of these negotiations in the next decade.’

He suggested to the chair of the dialogue, the President of Mexico, the need for world leaders to intervene and rescue the negotiations.

“I don’t know whether it’s too late in the process now but the climate change negotiations need a political and humanitarian decision.  I don’t know whether we need to convince the negotiators but, we as Leaders need to sit down and make decisions on issued that negotiators cannot resolve", said President Tong.

Kiribati did not support the Copenhagen Accord in 2009 but recently associated itself with the Accord to access the fast start finance package that accompanied the Accord.

Similarly, President Marcus Stephen of Nauru, with few words expressed the gravity of the effects of climate change on his home island

“Our priority is survival before financing,  Financing is perfect for us to adapt to the changes that we are seeing but survival is our immediate need."

President Nauru was responding to the comments by the President Felipe Calderon who said that ‘perfect may be the enemy of the good.’

He rejected any notion that the small island nations were trying to ‘derail’ the negotiations but merely putting their case for the world to see.

“1.5 degree Celsius is what the science is saying and we cannot ignore that", said President Stephen.

Pacific Island nations, together with other small island developing states in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean have lobbied for global temperatures be limited to well below 1.5 degree Celsius and concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stabilise at around 350 parts per million. 

The group of 43 nations also want global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to peak by 2015 and decline thereafter. They also want Annex 1 parties to the UN Climate Convention (rich and industrialised nations) to reduce their GHG emissions by more than 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and more than 95 percent by 2050, given their historical responsibility.

 Below is the Statement made by the Hon. Tuilaepa Sailele Malilegaoi, the Prime Minister of Samoa at the second Panel of "Heads of State or Government Dialogues" on "The struggle against climate change, what would our legacy be?" at Moon Palace Hotel, Cancun, Mexico, 9 December 2010.

Mr President,
Ladies and Gentlemen

Leaders who spoke before me had given us rare insights on how we should own up individually and collectively to our responsibility to protect our environment for future generations.

My input, by necessity, will be through the perspectives of Samoa, a small island developing state in the Pacific Ocean. Already we have quite a diverse and colorful menu and hopefully my contribution will give it a Pacific tropical flavor.

Let me respond to the five questions posed one by one.  

1) Which characteristics should an economic development model have in order for it to be sustainable?

From Samoa’s perspective, development must be country owned and country led and should be a bottom-up approach through an extensive consultation and negotiation process utilizing both traditional channels and structures. Moreover, development should be country focused & country tailored taking into account the physical, socio-economic and political circumstances and capacities as well as the aspirations of the people.  

Underpinning all this is the need for bold leadership and a stable government capable and willing to provide an enabling environment for people’s views to be articulated and to help strengthen the private sector’s role as the engine of growth.

In the context of climate change, we need to bear in mind that as much as the challenges of climate change are the product of man’s actions, the existing technologies, lifestyles and level of consumption by society, one hopes that these same challenges will bring forth a wave of innovative solutions to help mitigate against the negative impacts of climate change.

Importantly, what seems to have endured in any model, be it economic, social, military or political is an integrated approach that allows innovation to build on and strengthen indigenous, local or existing systems.  As local ownership of any policy or model, adaptation or mitigation, is critical to its long terms success.

2) How can we ensure that there is sustained and sufficient financing for climate change in the long term?

Samoa’s adaptation and mitigation funding needs will continue to outstrip the level of resources available to it at any given time.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) as the Convention’s financial mechanism had a successful 5th replenishment. This is positive news for most of the Pacific island states that will get national allocations of GEF resources for the first time, after being recipients for many years mainly of enabling activities. As well, the decision to trial out on a pilot basis direct access of parties through accredited national or regional implementing agencies is long overdue.

Outside of GEF, there is funding potential in the Adaptation Fund under the Kyoto Protocol. The line of parties queuing up with requests for financial resources under this modality is getting longer, not shorter, and the current level of resources is insufficient to accommodate all the requests.

How can the financing be sustained?
This can partly be achieved by all, or most of the following being realized;
  • the full monetization of the US$5.5 billion replenishment pledges for GEF 5
  • the need for clarity on the level of Fast Start Finance not yet committed and unearmarked and specific criteria for accessing them,
  • Possible increase of the current level of CDM proceeds to the Adaptation Fund
  • More development partners donating generously to the Adaptation Fund
  • Replenishment of the Least Developed Countries Fund and the Special Climate Change Fund respectively through an assessed contribution formula, and not via voluntary pledges as currently is the case;
  • Pursuing bilateral or region-specific arrangements for funding towards climate-related projects
  • Coming into force of the new Green/Climate Fund  etc

3 What are some of the trends in mitigation and adaptation?

The Pacific island countries are heavily reliant on fossil fuels for energy, electricity and transportation, yet their 0.03 % of global emissions is relatively insignificant to solving of the climate change problem.

This however has not deterred Pacific island countries from undertaking both regional and national level mitigation projects on a voluntary basis. Samoa is amongst these countries, and has adopted a national energy policy to become carbon-free by 2020. Similarly, Tonga, Vanuatu, Cook Islands, Marshall Islands and others are undertaking national level initiatives under various funding mechanisms.

The magnitude and cost of climate change and the fact that small island states are right up there with the rest doing their share to adapt and mitigate against the adverse effects of climate change within the confines of limited resources availability, sometimes at great expense, underscore their determination to be part of the global solution. 

On the adaptation side, some key initiatives in the Pacific include the mainstreaming of climate change into sectoral and to national development planning, integrating climate change with disaster risk reduction and education and awareness through information dissemination and capacity building.

Renewable energy, ocean energy, solar power and hydro electricity all have appeals for the Pacific islands given the plentiful supply of some of these inexhaustible resources like sunlight, wind, waves and ocean etc. Yet start up costs and overall maintenance can be challenges though not insurmountable.

 4) Is existing technology enough to face the challenges of climate change?

Technology must be appropriate and affordable. It must be suitable to the conditions in the islands both in terms of the weather, terrain, population size and even distance from sources of expertise and supplies for maintenance purposes. Importantly, the islands should not be used as testing or dumping grounds for obsolete, inferior and untested technology no matter how it was procured.

A genuine concern is the relatively small sizes of the islands, their markets, populations and the lack of economies of scales.  Combined, they will serve to discourage potential investors from investing or selling climate-related technology in large quantities in the islands. Effectively this means that for the islands to benefit from any new technology, they will have to access it via partnerships with the Public sector, i.e. developed countries through bilateral or other funding arrangements.

5) How can we teach the future generations to face these changes?

Samoa has been concerned with the lack of progress on the issue of education and awareness under the Convention and is happy to see that there is new impetus to address this.

We have been working on a number of initiatives to mainstream climate change into our school curriculum and found that the best approach is not to have a stand-alone climate change course or an elective course. The more efficient way is to include climate change modules with the existing curriculum that is being taught for the purpose of national exams. It is feasible to incorporate climate change issues in different types of lessons, from mathematics’, social science and physical science to literacy and expressive arts.  We need to assist the teachers by facilitating easy access to lesson modules they can use in the context of teaching towards the national exams.

The regional meteorology work is assisted by installing weather stations at schools that are maintained and monitored by the students who in turn gain a better understanding of climate variability and climate change.

A climate change documentary festival organized 2 years ago by SPREP resulted in 17 movies produced to educate the people of the industrialized countries of the stark reality that Pacific islands face. Once they realize the importance of Annex1 countries taking action, perhaps they could put greater pressure on their national leaders to help stop this climate change disaster.  

Alternatively, may be a summary version of the movies can be produced for kindergarten levels. Perhaps by aiming our message at a more simple audience we could drive home the message more forcefully that inaction is placing small island states in greater peril than people will care to admit.

Finally, what should our legacy be?

It has been a long and frustrating journey of high expectations and shattered hopes especially for small island developing states. They contributed the least to the causes of climate change, yet stand to suffer the most and least able to adapt effectively to the adverse impacts.

Notwithstanding these grim realities, Pacific small island nations continue to negotiate in good faith. Even if everyone deserts the negotiating table for whatever reason, we will continue to be there and hopeful that reason will prevail, and the time will come when we are finally able to turn a global problem into a global opportunity, where our focus should be on the positive of climate change, not on its negative consequences and when, as the true world leaders we are, we should just fix our mistakes and those of our predecessors, after all, the buck stops here and climate change is happening under our watch. That’s should be our legacy.


  1. I hope that major governments listen and help.

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