Monday 5 December 2011

Climate Conversations - Staying positive as climate talks hit delays

By Ambassador Marlene Moses, permanent representative to the United Nations for the Republic of Nauru

One of the most frequent questions I am asked at the international climate negotiations goes along these lines: “How do you remain positive when you, a citizen and representative of a small Pacific island that could well become uninhabitable due to climate change, again and again face delays at the very talks meant to save you?”

The truth is, with reports from Nauru about water supplies running low, coastal areas washing away, and the sea rising, I fear for what my life and the lives of children from our region may be.

But, just when the reasons to despair stare me imposingly in the face, and the urge to give up swells inside me, I seek the presence of people of conscience, and I feel around me the optimism of youth, with its stubborn refusal to accept a fate forced upon it.

Last Friday I had one of those moments. I was honoured to join Ambassadors Dessima Williams of Grenada and Ronald Jumeau of the Seychelles at the “Rally for Survival” outside the UNFCCC climate talks being held here in Durban, South Africa.

We are representatives from island countries of the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific regions, which comprise the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and our people are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The crowd reflected the world’s diversity and goodness. A New Zealander, Senegalese and Vermonter warmly greeted us and explained that, since there were no microphones, our words would be repeated for all to hear.

So human amplification echoed each sentence from our lips to the ears of the Indian, English, South African, Bolivian, Spanish, American, Australian, French, Brazilian, Chinese and all the others in the crowd and back to us again. I thought that maybe by repeating them again here, and sharing photographs and video, you might too feel what we felt.


Ambassador Williams began by telling the audience: “It is so wonderful to be surrounded by our friends in civil society. You are the conscience of these negotiations and we thank you for your steadfast resolve and support. It inspires us.”

I added: “We thank each and every one of you here today for being our conscience, and we’ll continue to be your voice inside those halls and the negotiating rooms… I want to thank you for your steadfastness, for your conscience and for your conviction… It gives us conviction.”

And Ambassador Jumeau followed on: “You have heard the message from the islands: from the Caribbean, from the Pacific, and I come from the Indian Ocean. The same message applies to the port city of Durban. If we go under, Durban goes under… During COP 17 we are all small islanders. So don’t save us. Save yourselves.”

This gathering - this Conference of People - reflects the increasingly rare and precious dialogue at these climate negotiations that keeps hope alive. It is the opposite of pessimism and the antidote to cynicism. It is the most important conversation in the world.

If there is one thing I know, influential voices here will tell us not to raise our expectations too high. They will tell us to be reasonable, given the current economic and political contexts. The temptation will be great to take the advice, in the hope we might get something better in the future, or the fear that it is the best we will get today.

But life is characterised by uncertainty. There is no guaranteeing that economic and political conditions will be any more conducive to an agreement five or ten years from now than they are today. Indeed, given the worsening impacts of climate change, things could very well get worse.

The truth is that, unless things change quickly, we will in all likelihood bequeath the next generation a world with many more droughts and famines and floods, and fewer rainforests, coral reefs and cultures.

In light of this reality, we should never be ashamed to demand what is required for our survival. The science again and again points to the same number: 350 parts per million, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is consistent with keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees and that gives us a realistic chance at survival.

It is the responsibility of the leaders at these talks to be guided by the best available science and the principles of the Convention to which we have all agreed and, as the rally so poignantly reminds us, it is the responsibility of people of conscience to accept nothing less.

Ambassador Marlene Moses is the permanent representative to the United Nations for the Republic of Nauru and Chair of the Pacific Small Island Developing States. Next year she will Chair the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

BROADENING THE CIMATE CHANGE DEBATE: “Not just about sea-level rise”

Durban, South Africa,5 December 2011 - Climate change goes beyond the direct impacts of well-publicised sea-level rise, says an expert from the Pacific region.

Think food security and health. Think infrastructure; planning and budgeting. Think holistic.

“These are all interconnected issues that impact our Pacific countries’ abilities to deal effectively with the impacts of climate change,” says Brian Dawson, Senior Climate Change Advisor with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

“People need to know their options for survival and quality of life, and how to effectively adapt to these grave threats.”

Adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change is one of the key international issues being negotiated at the United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP17 – currently underway in Durban, South Africa.

SPC Report - Food Security in the Pacific and East Timor and its vulnerability to climate change

Filling the knowledge gap

Citing the findings of a recently released report from SPC titled “Food Security in the Pacific and East Timor and its vulnerability to climate change”, Mr Dawson said one of the key issues to address in the Pacific is understanding adaptation options.

He poses: “When will we have to adapt? What are the options that we have? How much is it going to cost? Who should pay for it and what should we do as countries ourselves to actually increase our resilience to climate change?”

There’s more than just climate change at work asserts Mr Dawson.

“There’s a range of variables that due to differences in governance, urbanization, population growth, waste streams, degradation of reefs – these actually increase island nations’ vulnerability to climate change.”

Mr Dawson suggests, as outlined in the SPC report, the need to improve existing management of resources and governance systems, and that in itself, irrespective of climate change, will be a benefit, and will also increase resilience to climate change.

“Climate change is a very slow, erosive effect in things like agriculture, sustainability of forest systems, ecosystems based on water changes of river levels and extreme rainfall events,” said Mr Dawson.

“All those things have an impact of day to day activities, like growing crops, catching fish, so it’s very important that we build that broad base of understanding in line ministries and communities if we’re actually going to get together a sensible approach to adaptation.”

The Ulu o Tokelau (Head of Government), Foua Toloa, echoes Mr Dawson’s sentiments on the far-reaching effects of climate change, reflecting on the small island nation’s recent water crisis.

“When you have no water there is a broad spectrum of impacts,” said the Ulu.

“We were under threat from health issues, even more vulnerable to disasters and there were many other development concerns because we had a severe shortage of water.

“When climate change affects one area, other areas feel the repercussions."

Tokelau declared a state of emergency in October this year after six months without substantial rain, their primary source of fresh water.

Food security - quality not quantity

Another major concern affecting Pacific peoples’ day-to-day lives, with climate change impacts a key factor in the severity of the issue, is food security.

Food security includes various elements, according to Mr Dawson.

“They include having access to food, and that’s a function of both incomes and also the ability to supply food to markets; it’s making sure that the food you have is hygienic; it’s about adequate nutrition; and in some of the countries there’s been a decline in the percentage of their diets supplied by traditional crops and fish being replaced by imported foods.”

All those different aspects are interrelated said Mr Dawson, and accentuated due to the impacts of climate change.

“When you talk about food security, you need to think about more than enough food, you need quality of food,” he said.

“Generally in the Pacific people are quite well fed, but in the nutritional aspects, you can have over nutrition and under nutrition and what we need to have is proper nutrition.”

Food production per capita has been declining in just about all countries in the region according to Mr Dawson.

“With climate change you get increased variability and intensity of rainfall, and consequent losses from things like floods and change in pest and disease regimes,” said Mr Dawson.

“A lot of crops depend on pollinators and with climate change these pollinators are disappearing, different fruits are flowering at different times, so the traditional food cropping systems are going to change.”


One of the significant findings of another SPC report, “Vulnerability of Tropical Pacific Fisheries and Aquaculture to Climate Change”, is that coastal fisheries will decline over the course of the century.

“So that by mid-century it will decline by 20-30%, and by the end of the century by up to 50%,” said Mr Dawson.

“At the same time, the availability of tuna increases, for a range of reasons, so some countries like Kiribati and Marshall Islands, Samoa, may get 20-40% increase in available tuna.

“So you could see that as a windfall in terms of exports of tuna, but at the same time, an important adaptation response is for greater domestic consumption of tuna to substitute for the loss of coastal fisheries.”

So when Pacific nations start planning ahead to get appropriate nutritional supplies, you need to think about what options are available.

“Luckily for the Pacific we have the increase in oceanic fisheries catches that can supplement food supplies and reduce our reliance on imported food,” said Mr Dawson. “But we need to understand now, so we can plan for the decades ahead.”
COP17 and the Pacific

According to Mr Dawson, the UN Climate Change Conference currently underway in Durban needs to deliver on finance and mitigation issues for the Pacific to reap any substantial benefits.

“The Pacific Island group at Durban, through the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), needs to articulate the particular concerns of the Pacific and I think we do that increasingly well,” said Mr Dawson.

“One key issue for the Pacific will be finance – where and how will we get the funds to adapt to climate change?”

COP17 has attracted some 20,000 delegates and international climate change negotiators from across the globe. The conference opened on 28 November and will close 9 December. See for more information.

PACC impresses agencies with adaptation efforts

Mr Taito Nakalevu, Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change Regional Project Manager
Durban, South Africa, 3 December - The Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change Project presented to donors and implementing agencies during its side event at the 17th Conference of Parties held in Durban, South Africa showcasing progress and lessons learnt on their adaptation efforts on the ground.

It was an opportunity to hear first hand from the National Coordinators from Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu as they shared their achievements from their national projects that are to help local communities build resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Mr Paula Taufa, National Coordinator from Tonga
The presentation was a heart warming one for Dr. Pradeep Kurukulusuriya, he was pleased to see the actual implementation of adaptation work on the ground.

Dr Kurukulusuriya is the Senior Technical Advisor- Adaptation (Global) Green Low Emission Climate Resilient Development Strategies UNDP - Global Environment Facility.

“I have been associated with the PACC Project since 2005 when it was simply a five page concept and now to see these activities and impacts in place it is really encouraging to keep doing and supporting the Pacific region with accessing finance.”

Global Environment Facility Small Island Developing States Focal Point Mr Rawleston Moore.

A point raised by the PACC member countries was the need to upscale the project however the issue of accessing further funds would be a major challenge.

"We at GEF have started to scale up funding especially on the Special Climate Change Fund which most of the Pacific Island Countries are recipient of,” said the Global Environment Facility Small Island Developing States Focal Point Mr Rawleston Moore.

“We have managed to scale up funding and we should be up to about $500 million which is still short of the target. We know the kind of difficulty is there in raising funds in the Special Climate Change Fund however with a presentation on the actual on-the-ground adaptation efforts showcasing to donors the fruit of their investments assists them in a better position to raise that fund.”

Dr Kurukulusuriya highlighted the UNDP will continue to support the Pacific in accessing additional resources for adaptation, an area that they are continuing to strengthen in the region.

“The success we’ve had with mobilising funds from the Australian Agency for International Development for the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme partnership is an example of that, and we are also looking to expand other types of partnership with other Pacific Regional agencies to ensure that there is more resources and more support for countries in the Pacific as they embark on this long journey.”

H.E Ambassador Aliioaiga Feturi Elisaia, the Ambassador from Samoa to the UN shared his support of the adaptation efforts by the member countries under the PACC Project and highlighted the importance of partnership for sustainable outputs.

“For partnership to be sustainable there has got to be an element of trust and I think that has been shown by the presentation this afternoon.

“The presentation shared with us is what is actually happening on the ground and too often donors don’t get to hear our message but I also think of having this as an opportunity for the accountability process.

He added, “We need to ensure as a minimum that the Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries will take the floor in terms of the resources, whether it’s a million dollar fund or a billion dollar fund, by the time Pacific SIDS proposals are considered most of the funds is exhausted because we are competing with other countries; we have to be here in the international arena and we have to put our needs across.”

The PACC Project has 14 member countries and territories with the focus to enhance their adaptive capacity in three development sectors – Coastal Zone Management, Food Production and Food Security, and Water Resource Management.

The project is implemented by the UNDP in partnership with SPREP and funded by GEF and AusAID with support from the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.

L - R  Dr. Pradeep Kurukulusuriya United Nations Development Program Bangkok Technical Adviser in support of UNDP-Global Environment Facility Climate Change Adaption and H.E Ambassador Aliioaiga Feturi Elisaia, Samoa's Ambassador to the UN