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December 1, 2017

Fiji Presides Over International Climate Change Conference

The UN Climate Change Conference held in Bonn, Germany this November was held to look at next steps for the international community following on from the Paris Agreement. And our very own beloved Fiji was the presiding nation with Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama assuming the presidency of COP23.

Timoci Naulusala opens COP23 High Level Segment

He held the attention of more than 1000 people at the opening of the high level segment of #COP23. View a speech by #TimociNaulusala of Naivicula, Wainibuka in the province of Tailevu.

Posted by Fiji Times Online on Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The aim of the conference was to accelerate the transformation to sustainable and resilient and climate-safe development. Delegates were hoping to gain some clarification the frameworks for change to enable nations to reach their climate change goals. Known as COP23, the conference hosted by Germany, shows the power of unlikely partnerships between the Germans and Fijians.

Conferences give the international community a chance to swat up on the latest climate change science, and also to gauge where other people in the world are at when it comes to the sustainable transition. One of the main tasks of this conference was to thrash out the technical rules on monitoring emissions.

We now know that the climate shift is happening at a faster rate than before predicted. At Paris, the agreement was to hold the increase in global average temperature to less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. But now we know this probably isn’t good enough, and so now the target is 1.5 degrees as well as a commitment to achieve a net-zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050 at the very latest. Some task. The biggest battle still appears to be over oil, coal, and gas. The technical issues were seemingly resolved, but those big carbon cutting questions were still not answered, and it is thought this will be the main topic of next year’s conference in Poland.

This conference, with Fiji as lead partner, particularly focussed on the already visible consequences of climate change. It is the most vulnerable countries such as the island nations of the Pacific that are already dealing with the consequences of planetary warming. Fiji’s voice was louder than ever at this conference, and that helped hit home to some of the ‘safer’ countries, who are often the biggest polluters, that this is happening to fellow humans around the world now. It is no longer an obscure future threat that can be ignored. It is no longer sufficient to maintain momentum, instead commitments must mean action, and that action needs to be accelerated.

The story of Vunidogoloa, Fiji, is one that is often cited when thinking about the tangible impacts of climate change. The sea surged through this village, and its inhabitants would use their boats to move from house to house. Eventually as they kept seeing crops fail due to salt water contamination, the village decided to move inland in 2014. This was hailed as the first pioneering relocation project that was driven by climate change. The village flooded throughout its history occasionally, but this got progressively worse after the year 2000. The move wasn’t easy, and is still a great source of upset, especially for village elders.

Fiji was chosen to preside over the summit due to being one of the most vulnerable island nations. The nation is under constant threat of sea levels rising as well as susceptibility to increasingly harsh weather patterns. Fiji reported that its recorded rise in sea-levels is much larger than the global average and that this has made some areas completely uninhabitable. The warmer weather too is giving rise to viral disease outbreaks. Storms are predicted to become more frequent, as are climate change related deaths.

Overfishing and ocean pollution are priorities too for Fiji. These are part of the bigger climate change picture. But for Fiji it is also economically important as tourism is the largest source of income for the island nation.

Fiji was the first nation to sign the Paris Agreement in April 2016, and were keen to ensure that it was shrouded with delays in the same way the Kyoto Protocol was. Fiji have been advocating for action, not discussions. A strong message that even the biggest of nations are starting to heed. The difference between the two is that Kyoto was a legal agreement to reduction targets, whereas the Paris Agreement is an agreement on conscience, not legality.

Harmonising climate change adaptation and mitigation

It was a huge blow to the whole process when President Trump announced his withdrawal from the proceedings. America is a key partner, and one who is responsible for a large proportion of the emissions. This hasn’t however, stopped the momentum for the other countries who continue to see climate change for the very real threat it is. Only America and Syria are not on board, every other country in the world is. The US is the biggest emitter in history. China is now the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. The former seems to be taking huge steps backwards, whereas the latter is staking steps in the right direction through the Blue Economy and renewables.

Fiji knows it has to form strong alliances with larger nations to have the positive impact it so desires. Neighbouring Indonesia and Australia are responsible for high levels of emissions due to palm oil plantations and continued reliance on coal mining. Fiji itself is only responsible for 0.01% of global emissions. Still Fiji plans to transition fully to renewable energy by just 2030.

Fijian culture permeated the conference. There was a performance by the Fijian police band, and also a Fijian canoe known as a drua sat in the main foyer to remind delegates that humanity is all in this together. The 7.5 billion people on earth are in the same canoe, and that canoe is springing more leaks every day.