For the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the disappointment of COP25 was that the conference attendees did not take its rallying cry for greater commitment: ‘climate change crisis’ - to heart. Recall the PIF Chair’s remark after the conference: “It is disheartening that our collective political commitment and resolve, as the Pacific Islands Forum, was not upheld by the parties to this declaration, where it mattered most – that is in the negotiating rooms in Madrid.”
In reviewing what was said and published post-COP25, however, it seems that the ‘climate change crisis’ message has obviously hit its targets in the wider audiences - those who do not necessarily have reserved seats in the global conference rooms. Writer and historian Yuval Noah Harari, for example, has written about the prospects of an ‘ecological collapse’, and he sternly warned global leaders about it recently at their World Economic Forum Annual Meeting held in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland last January.
Another eminent writer and Guardian columnist, George Monbiot, joined others in posing the question that in the light of the deteriorating climate change situation, whether humanity has started to breach some tipping points in climate change. Fred Pearce expands on this theme: “…the earth may be approaching key tipping points, including the runaway loss of ice sheets, that could fundamentally disrupt the global climate system. A growing concern is a change in ocean circulation which could alter climate patterns in a profound way.”
Furthermore, the Climate Emergency Movement has determined that: the “…world may have crossed tipping points - warning of ‘existential threat to civilisation’ as impacts lead to cascade of unstoppable events.” To underline the existentiality of the threat by way of analogy, the BBC News has pointed to its own nuclear Doomsday Clock which is now indicating how close our planet is to complete annihilation: “it is only 100 seconds away from midnight! This is the nearest we have been to apocalypse!”
Notwithstanding the disappointment of COP25, the reality of the climate change situation is that the solution - and there has to be a solution - has to be on a global level.
What therefore of the region? To grant globalism a modicum of success, regionalism has to step up its act. Greater global inter-dependence is called for. This implies a lot of things. As a start, for Pacific regionalism, for instance, it cannot be business as usual. Pacific regionalism has to be strengthened. New ideas, new solutions, new methodologies have to be found and put to use with unprecedented levels of energy and strength of commitment.
“The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind”, echoes the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s famous song. And the commentator’s take: “The answers are there in the wind. They move, they change, but the answers are there. It’s only a matter of trying to pick them up.”
I have been playing the commentator’s role as a contributor to this magazine since last September. My article for the September/October (2019) issue: ‘Death of Pacific Regionalism?’, was a proposition that we need to approach Pacific regionalism differently from what we have been doing since 1971. My December article: ‘2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent: A Sea Change?’ explored the likely approach to the formulation of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent in my attempt to build a regional architecture that is essential and conducive for a fresh approach to Pacific regionalism.
My January 2020 article: ‘PIF Identity May Need Re-focusing’ delves deeper into what we are – our regional persona. If we are to be different and to assert our persona and our agency, we have to correct one of the building blocks of what we are and what we project to the world. My February article: ‘PIF Needs to Strategise After COP25’, points to some options that our new approach can take, especially in the context of our existential threat of climate change, given the disappointment of COP25. I discussed the prospects of southsouth, north-south and triangular co-operations in addition to our multilateral approach.
Now, let us look for some other answers in the wind. The proposed 2050 Strategy is giving prominence to the interests of Pacific Island Countries (PICs), not only in terms of issues and policies but also in terms of their options as regards the regional architecture of Pacific regionalism. This makes a lot of sense when it comes to climate change. There is no unity in climate change among PIF members. But it is the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) amongst them that understand fully the existentiality of the threat that climate change presents.
In geopolitics as well, PICs are generally used as pawns of the bigger and developed powerful countries, especially the Pacific Rim countries. PICs know best their own situations and feel more passionately about being shunned and ignored when other powerful allies abuse their agency and speak on their behalf as if they don’t exist.
In mid-2019, an answer had blown in from the northern wind when former Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga of Tuvalu suggested the ‘United States of the Pacific’ as a way of restructuring Pacific regionalism. This was a way of creating a forum for PICs only and he justified this as a means ‘to amplify(ing) their concerns about climate change on the global stage.’
A new answer blew in late last year in the form of a consultant report to PIFS on ‘Review of the Forum Processes’. I admit that I was one of the consultants that drafted the report. My partner in crime and a senior partner at that was Garry Wisemen, formerly of UNDP and PIFS. Strengthening the role of the PIF Troika (comprising at any time the former, current and in-coming Chairs) was recommended in the report. And what better way to start the work of the empowered Troika than on the climate change crisis! If managed and resourced well, there could be early dividends to reap.
The current composition of the Troika comprises Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. The all-PIC composition is ideal for the Troika’s strengthened role in climate change crisis. Its role has to be formalised and protected. It should not be subjected to variation with changing membership.
The Troika is to be charged to spearhead all discussions/negotiations/advocacy on climate change crisis, starting with relevant PIF membership and extending beyond the region. These negotiations need to be intensive and focused. The Troika is to direct its first advocacy with PIF’s developed country members of Australia and New Zealand (ANZ). PIF will be more convincing globally if it starts its climate change crisis advocacy properly at home.
The Troika’s work, as far as ANZ are concerned, is unequivocal, given our climate change knowledge of the causes of greenhouse gas emissions of those countries. For Australia, the PIF Troika is to advocate for an effective programme for that country to wean itself from fossil fuels. For New Zealand, the Troika is to advocate for the production of ‘clean meat’ in the not-too-distant future.
‘Yes, and how many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry? Yes, and how many deaths will it take till he knows, that too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.’
The author is a former Fijian Ambassador and Foreign Minister and runs his own consultancy company in Suva, Fiji.