“Unless the world acts decisively to begin addressing the greatest challenge of our age, then the Pacific, as we know it, is doomed", the country's Prime Minister said.
It might seem like an odd arrangement that the country presiding over the latest round of UN climate talks in Germany this week is the Pacific island of Fiji. But the decision to put Fiji in charge is important and instructive. Here’s why.
As Frank Bainimarama, the Fijian Prime Minister, succinctly explains: “Unless the world acts decisively to begin addressing the greatest challenge of our age, then the Pacific, as we know it, is doomed.”
It was a decade ago that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified the small island states in the Pacific as being the most vulnerable countries in the world to the catastrophic impacts of climate change.
For Fiji and its neighbours, climate change isn’t a far-off concern it’s an issue lapping at their shores right now. For years the residents of Vunidogoloa were forced to use rafts to travel from house to house each time the ocean surged through their coastal Fijian village.
The villagers watched their crops die time and time again as the saltwater poisoned their fertile soil.
The entire village on Vanua Levu island was finally forced to move inland in 2014 as part of a pioneering relocation project driven by climate change, according to the government.
Some of Fiji’s neighbours have already fared worse. Five Pacific islands have been lost to rising seas and erosion in the two years – the devastating scientific confirmation of the projections first made by IPCC in 2007.
The missing islands were part of the Solomon Islands, an archipelago that has seen annual sea levels rise as much as 10mm in the last twenty years.
The five fully submerged islands weren’t inhabited by humans (they weren’t uninhabited though).
But six of the Soloman Islands larger islands have also seen huge swaths of land washed into the sea, seen entire villages destroyed and people forcibly displaced from their own homes.
The last climate talks which attracted a similar level of global media scrutiny were the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris.
The 2015 talks birthed the eponymous Paris Agreement, the accord that aims to avoid the worst of the climate crisis by keeping limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and well below 2 degrees.
COP23 in Bonn is where the plans to actually achieve these vital aims must be discussed and agreed by the countries party to the agreement – which, as of this week, includes every country in the world apart from America.
That’s why Frank Bainimarama, as a representative of the Pacific islands region, is the perfect choice to preside over COP23. Failure in this latest round of climate talks is not an option for Fiji, its neighbours or their citizens – it’s nothing less than an existential threat to their homes and their way of life.
The latest analysis by the Climate Action Tracker team, in that context, is alarming; not only has Trump pulled the US – one of the world’s biggest polluters – out of the Paris Agreement, the countries signed up to it are failing to uphold the climate promises made at COP21.
More disturbing still, the research team behind the tracker, believe the promises don’t go far enough to keep global warming levels below the vital 2-degree maximum target – while the 1.5-degree ambition is slipping out of reach.
With big polluters and their lobbyists infiltrating the highest levels of Governments across the world – aided and abetted by a rogues gallery of climate offending nations and politicians – it is hardly surprising we are, by and large, failing to deliver on the promises made when signing up to the groundbreaking Paris Agreement.
Britain is not alone among the climate offenders, but it is one of the most brazen. The Conservative Government has happily admitted its policies will ensure the UK breaches its legally-binding climate targets but persists in its steadfast refusal to take the action necessary to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Greens in the UK, in the European Parliament, and across the world are watching, attending and participating in COP23 to demand that a bold, radical and effective implementation plan is put in place to deliver on the promise of the Paris Agreement.
We only hope that the world leaders in attendance will listen, truly listen, to the experiences of Fijians on the frontline of the battle against climate change.
Urgent action on, not lip service to, the Paris Agreement is necessary not only to protect the homes and livelihoods of Pacific Islanders in the immediate term but the future of our children’s children and the continued survival of our life-giving natural world.
Keith Taylor is the Green MEP for South East England. He tweets here.
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