The call from Pacific leaders for immediate climate action

The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the Governments of Tuvalu and Vanuatu, came together to hold a joint side event entitled, "Pacific Island Climate Action and Finance: Successes, challenges and lessons learned," at the Twenty-third United Nations Convention on Climate Change (COP23) held in Bonn, 6-17th of November, 2017.

The side event featured a diverse panel, which included the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Hon. Enele Sopoaga, who highlighted the priorities and challenges faced by Pacific island countries. In particular he stressed the need to keep warming below 1.5 °C, and adopting bold ideas in adapting to the unavoidable impacts of climate change, and mobilising our communities from within.

For Pacific Small Islands Developing States (SIDS), one of the biggest issues has been Loss and Damage, which was also highlighted by the Prime Minister, who has himself been a leading advocate in the push for meaningful integration of the issue in the Paris Agreement.

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The Pacific side event drew a strong crowd

Director General of SPREP, Kosi Latu, touched on the remarks made by the Prime Minister at the 2015 COP21 held in Paris, during which Hon. Sopoaga said, "if we save Tuvalu, we save the world."

At the COP23 in Bonn, a common message has been heard, particularly amongst the Pacific islands, that it is detrimental to the survival of the Pacific and the world, to not achieve the 1.5°C target. According to Climate Analytics, this will require the halting of installation of new coal-based power plants and closing the existing coal plants, which has already proved to be a challenge for many countries.

Hon. Sopoaga challenged the audience and participants to COP23 at large, by stating that it would be "morally irresponsible not to do everything within our power to slow down climate change." He also questioned how many more people relocated because of climate change are needed before the global community unites under common action.

Also on the panel for the side event, was the Secretary for the newly formed Ministry of Environment and Emergency Management of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Hon. Andrew Yatilman, who touched on challenges faced by his country in accessing climate finance. FSM was recently awarded a 9 million grant from the Adaptation Fund (AF) to support water security in remote outer atolls, and to support the implementation of a coastal management plan for the mountainous island of Kosrae.

FSM, with assistance from SPREP, was able to secure approval of the grant, but faced significant challenges relating to technical capacity and availability of resources which Hon. Yatilman touched on in his remarks. Reflecting on this experience, DG Kosi Latu highlighted the constraints in relation to the absence of project preparation support from the Adaptation Fund (AF), which resulted in SPREP and FSM approaching other partners to support the project design process. In addition DG Kosi Latu also remarked that the assistance of the Regional Technical Support Mechanism (RTSM) helped progress the project through the deployment of relevant experts. This included extensive community consultations, a cost benefit analysis, and an environmental impact assessment.

Overall, the positive take away from the experience of FSM was that accessing the grant from AF was possible with the assistance of SPREP and other partners, which delivered key assistance to FSM. Therefore, other Pacific island countries should take the initiative and work with partners like SPREP to secure funds for assistance like the AF and the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

Chief of Funafuti, Silinga Kofe, alongside President of Tuvalu Overview (a non-government organisation), Shuuichi Endou, gave a presentation highlighting the threats currently faced by the small atoll island, and the bold idea being explored to ensure the islands survival. This idea has revolved around the preservation of the natural coral reef barrier around the atoll, rebuilding the island through a combination of natural and human-engineered sand replenishment, and extensive mangrove planting to rehabilitate the coastline of Funafuti.

The project has garnered interest from partners, and represents the type of innovative and visionary thinking that is needed to ensure the survival of Pacific islands communities and other small island states, which are now experiencing challenges in adaptation on a scale they have never experienced before.

During the Q & A part of the side event, the fully packed venue with only standing room available, garnered much attention. The Prime Minister, when asked a leading political questioned, answered simply: "We must keep the coal in the ground, and keep our islands above the water," in reference to plans of the world's governments to allow continued mining and burning of coal, which do not align with the Paris Agreement long-term temperature goal.

In closing the session, DG Kosi Latu acknowledged that whilst there were challenges in accessing climate finance, overall, the Pacific has been successful in securing climate finance - "including over 270 million for 7 projects through the Green Climate Fund, an example being the Climate Information Services for Resilient Development Project in Vanuatu which is supported by SPREP, the only accredited regional organisation in the Pacific region," said Mr Latu.

A strong call was made for the Pacific, as well as the world, to develop simple yet effective ideas and projects to kick start climate action at the community level, and not to wait for the outcomes of negotiations. Actions must be taken immediately, by all, to save not only Tuvalu and the Pacific islands, but the whole world. - #COP23 #4PacIslands

The Twenty-Third Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP23) was held from 6 – 17 November, 2017 at the UNFCCC headquarters in Bonn.
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