Palau, Tonga, Fiji call for concrete actions at COP28 to combat climate crisis

Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka in Dubai, UAE (Photo: Fiji Government)

Palau’s President Surangel Whipps Jr. Friday delivered a powerful message emphasising the urgent need for global unity and concrete actions to combat the climate crisis.

Addressing the distinguished audience, including COP28 President Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Simon Stiell at the at the COP28 plenary in Dubai, President Whipps expressed gratitude for the hospitality of His Highness Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and emphasised the significance of the conference with its record-breaking participation.

President Whipps highlighted the unique challenges faced by Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Palau, emphasising their minimal contribution to global emissions but disproportionate suffering from the climate crisis, which he referred to as an ocean crisis.

“Our ocean feeds us, protects us, and defines us. We must protect it in return,” stated President Whipps.

He announced Palau’s commitment, alongside the Pacific family, to manage 100 percent of their ocean and protect at least 30 percent, stressing the global benefits of a healthy ocean.

Drawing on Palauan wisdom, President Whipps introduced the concept of ‘bul,’ emphasising the importance of pausing harvesting to allow the ocean to heal.

He shared a success story of the bumphead parrot fish, demonstrating the positive impact of conservation efforts on marine ecosystems.

President Whipps called for global respect for nature’s limits, highlighting the consequences of disregarding these boundaries—floods, droughts, heat, famine, and death.

Urging the mobilisation of at least US$100 billion annually to support the most vulnerable, he reiterated the need for accessible funding that doesn’t burden nations with additional debt.

In a notable mention, President Whipps acknowledged the Republic of China — Taiwan’s efforts in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

He commended Taiwan’s direct financing initiatives to build sea walls, shelters, and infrastructure, along with their environmentally conscious culture and contributions from private sector partners like O’right.

President Whipps joined other nations in calling for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty (FFNPT), envisioning it as a global framework for an equitable phase-out of fossil fuels and a transition to renewable energy.

Focus on Nature and People: Tongan King

Meanwhile, Tongan King Tupou VI has delivered a powerful speech at COP28 in Dubai that emphasised the need for urgent and collaborative action in addressing the impacts of climate change.

In his address, King Tupou VI highlighted the challenges faced by Small Island Developing States (SIDS), expressing disappointment that COP28 might not be the anticipated milestone moment due to slow progress on the Paris Agreement.

He emphasised the severe impacts of climate change and disasters on human security and mobility, leading to the displacement of over 50,000 Pacific people annually.

“It is painful for the people of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to see that COP28 may not be the milestone moment we had all been hoping for because of our slow progress on the Paris Agreement.”

Referring to Tonga’s recent endorsement of the Pacific Partnerships for Prosperity (PPfP), King Tupou VI urged international partners to collaborate in implementing this political prioritisation process.

He specifically called for support in establishing a Pacific Resilience Facility, emphasising its importance in building community resilience.

“I urge all partners to work with us and help us implement the PPfP. We need a Pacific-led, Member-owned and managed community resilience financing facility.”

Highlighting Tonga’s role as an Ocean People, King Tupou VI aligned the country’s goals with the themes outlined by the UAE at COP28, emphasising technology and innovation, inclusion, frontline communities, and finance.

“The 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent sees Pacific Island countries embarking on a blue technological revolution with innovation at the centre, seeking to develop and deploy SIDS-Appropriate technologies.”

As champions of the “Unlocking the Blue Pacific Prosperity Plan,” King Tupou VI stressed the goals of effective ocean management, protection of the Blue Pacific Continent, robust food systems, and sustainable financing mechanisms.

“Tonga and Palau are Champions of the ‘Unlocking the Blue Pacific Prosperity Plan,’ which articulates the goals of one hundred percent (100 percent) effective ocean management for the region.”

King Tupou VI urged COP28 delegates to prioritise “nature, people, lives, and livelihoods at the heart of climate action,” emphasising a paradigm shift in the discussions.

“Let us put ‘nature, people, lives and livelihoods at the heart of climate action,” he said.

Not enough has been achieved: Fiji PM

Meanwhile, world leaders must not forget the special circumstances and challenges faced by Small Island Developing States (SIDS), including all Pacific countries, as they look to the next steps of operationalising the Loss and Damage Fund.

The call came when Fiji Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka addressed more than 170 Heads of State and Government leaders attending the High-Level plenary of the World Climate Action Summit at COP28, at the Plenary Al Hairat Expo City, Dubai, UAE.

“We welcome progress made this week in the establishment of the Loss and Damage fund. We urge the Fund should be more targeted to the special challenges confronting Small Island Developing States because we are the most exposed and most vulnerable,” PM Rabuka said.

“COP28 is a pivotal moment for humanity in our collective effort to respond effectively to the climate crisis. There is no doubt we will fail to keep below 1.5degrees Celsius if we don’t act now with urgency,” PM Rabuka added.  

The “progress” Fiji’s Prime Minister was referring to is the historical decision on the first day of COP28 to operationalise the Loss and Damage Fund, with pledges of more than US$500million already made by several parties including the likes of the United Arab Emirates, Germany, European Union, Japan, United States of America and others. Designed to assist countries vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, Pacific countries have applauded the development. 

But Rabuka called for a herculean effort to ensure finances from the Loss and Damage Fund, as well as any other form of climate financing, are accessible and reaches grassroots Pacific communities who are at the immediate forefront of the climate crisis impacts.

“Experts have estimated that over US$4 trillion will be needed annually by 2030 to manage the impacts of climate change. There needs to be a herculean effort to mobilise financing and investments that is accessible and cost effective in delivering benefits to all,” he said.

“We must ramp up our adaptation efforts by doubling adaptation finance by 2025 and agree on a framework for the global goal on adaptation (GGA). I welcome the Presidency’s commitment to finalize the adoption of the GGA framework by the end of COP28.”

Prime Minister Rabuka, regarded as one of the elder statesmen in the Pacific given his experience and long history of service to Fiji and the region, lamented the lack of progress since he became involved in the climate negotiations space back in 1992 at the first Rio Earth Summit.

“Today, 28 years later, it seems to me that not enough has been achieved. Since 1992, emissions have dramatically increased, at a rate that destines us, and the world we live in, to destruction. The rate of emissions is the core metric to take stock of and respond to.”

COP28 is taking place at a time when humanity is breaking all the wrong records on climate change. According to the 2023 edition of the Emissions Gap Report, greenhouse gas emissions and the global average temperature are hitting new highs, while extreme weather events are occurring more often, developing faster and becoming more intense.