“For the Pacific, the impact of climate change will remain as the greatest threat to our Pacific people in the longer term. You can quarantine COVID-19, but climate change cannot be quarantined.”
That’s Exsley Taloiburi, climate change finance adviser at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in Suva.
This month, the annual Forum Economic Ministers Meeting (FEMM) went online, to discuss the regional response to the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting focussed on the social and economic effects of border closures, increased health spending, the collapse of tourism and associated job losses. But Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor was quick to acknowledge the region was dealing with compounding and interconnected challenges: “Today, we are now faced with three crises: a health crisis, an economic crisis and the ongoing climate crisis.”
The final FEMM outcomes statement agreed: “We recognise the three-pronged crisis currently facing the region – the impact of COVID-19, the devastating effects of climate change and natural disasters, and the fragile economic health of the region as a consequence of inherent vulnerabilities.”
Tuvalu’s Minister of Finance Seve Paeniu was chair of FEMM 2020. Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Paeniu stressed that these combined crises affect states like Tuvalu, that do not have any confirmed cases of coronavirus: “Even though we are COVID-19 free, we are already feeling the flow-on impact in terms of the financial drain on our resources, in terms of our health systems, to ensure that our capacity to be able to respond in the event that there is a COVID-19 outbreak in Tuvalu. On top of that, we are very much vulnerable to natural disasters. At the beginning of this year we were hit by Cyclone Tino and then a few weeks later we had the COVID-19 pandemic.”
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Despite all the international pledges for climate adaptation, Pacific governments and civil society want more action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As the host of the 2019 Forum leaders meeting in Tuvalu, then Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga put it bluntly: “No matter how much money you put on the table, it doesn’t give you the excuse not to do the right thing – that is, cutting down your emissions, including not opening your coal mines.”
The Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN) has more than 130 member organisations across the region. Earlier this year, the network issued a list of demands to Forum leaders, asking them “to call for a commitment to transforming the public and private financial system, at the domestic level and globally by 2030.”
PICAN advocates changes to climate funding mechanisms that ensure “financial flows are compatible and in line with a 1.5-degree pathway, climate-resilient development and just recovery efforts, which includes ceasing financing of fossil fuel projects and investing in 100 per cent renewable energy projects.”
For many years, civil society organisations in the Pacific have campaigned for increased community access to bilateral and regional climate programs, calling for increased funding for grassroots climate adaptation and renewable energy. But even as governments are working to increase flows of climate finance for adaptation, advocacy groups are focussing on another financial angle, seeking to turn off the taps! They’re lobbying donors and financial institutions to end their financial support for new emissions-intensive projects proposed by coal, gas and energy corporations.
Civil society groups lobbied Forum economic ministers before FEMM 2020, with Joseph Sikulu of 350.Org calling for re-allocation of subsidies and grants: “The work that’s going on, especially in our community groups, is to shift financing away from fossil fuel projects, especially at a time when we need finance to be flowing to ensure a just recovery for our community in this time of COVID. We want to ensure that governments aren’t funding the bail-out of some of these big projects.”
As a climate advocacy network, 350.Org Pacific has joined counterparts in Australia and New Zealand to target major projects such as the Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, managed by the Indian corporation Adani. The Adani mine has just begun construction, but coal mined in the inland Galilee Basin must be transported to the coast for export. Environmental activists are seeking to hit the finances of the Adani-owned Abbot Point coal export terminal, fearing damage as coal ships transit the Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO world heritage site.
Last year, two Korean financial corporations Samsung Securities and Hanwha Securities purchased $120 million of debt in the Abbot Point terminal, which has total debts nearing US$1.5 billion. Now, after community campaigns, environmental activists have secured commitments from the two Korean financiers to refuse re-financing of Abbot Point’s debt when it falls due for repayment before December 2022.
Patricia Mallam from 350.Org says: “We’re training Pacific Climate Warriors how they might intervene at Annual General Meetings, to ensure financial institutions seriously consider moving away from financing the coal industry and looking at renewable options.”
The slogan of the Pacific Climate Warriors is “We’re not drowning, we’re fighting!” The resources needed for that fight will be high on the regional agenda in coming months.
As a teenager, the atmosphere in our household every Sunday morning could either be described as a war zone, or a fiesta. It really depended on my mother’s mood, which was determined by whether we would be on time for the 10am mass or not. Scrambling for our Sunday Best (which really should have been ironed the night before), trying to gulp down breakfast one hour before mass started and remembering to take our contributions for the offering were just a few of the chaotic moments before a sense of calmness would settle us down, the minute the top of the Sacred Heart Cathedral came into view.
Days of worship vary in the Pacific, but the common thread that binds us together is that the peoples of the Pacific strongly believe in a higher entity, a God, who we serve through prayer, community service, environmental stewardship and contributions to the church.
This higher entity is the same God we turn to during tumultuous events. Recently, the Pacific has been hit with severe natural and climate disasters and COVID-19. Many Pacific Islanders have found solace in the church, and in their faith. In Tonga, at the peak of severe Tropical Cyclone Winston, 1,850 people took shelter in Latter-Day Saint (Mormon) church buildings.
Pacific Pays the Price
This year, the world fell to its knees as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world - showing just how connected and interdependent we are on each other. It’s evident now more than before that what happens in the more developed world, affects EVERYONE.
In the same way, if we look at industrial activity and carbon emissions - the Pacific Islands do not have any coal mines and contribute the least towards global carbon emissions - yet we face the brunt of the climate crisis.
Almost daily, media updates on how governments in more industrialised nations are bailing out the perpetrators of the climate crisis to cope during the global recession paint a dire picture of what’s to come. The climate crisis seems to have taken a backseat to ensuring the comfort of the wealthy corporations who continue to invest heavily in fossil fuels. It is a sad realisation that the best interests of people are not front and centre for most governments.
Whilst G20 nations deliberate over bailouts and salvaging their own economies, the people of the Pacific are steadfast in their faith and modelling all the Principles of a Just Recovery for a more sustainable, secure future.
The five principles of a Just Recovery are:
Churches Lead on Climate Action
The church has always been a source of hope and help for Pacific Islanders, including the Pacific diaspora in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States. When it comes to climate change, I’ve learnt from Reverend James Bhagwan, General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC), that churches have been saying the same things scientists have about climate change, long before it hit the mainstream.
As far back as 2004, the PCC met in Kiribati to discuss the effects of climate change on island nations, and produced the Otin Tai declaration, calling on industrialized nations to reduce fossil fuel use, acknowledge responsibility for climate change, and provide more adaptation funding, among other things.
Five years later, the PCC released the Moana Declaration which then led to the establishment of a Climate Change Unit within the PCC to push for the inclusion of climate change into sermons across the Pacific Region, and engage in more constructive dialogue with those most affected by climate change.
Practise What You Preach
A Proverb which resonates well with what what the PCC is doing amidst the backdrop of gloom and chaos is:
“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”
The PCC and the Pacific Theological College’s Institute of Mission and Research are leading the discourse on seeking solutions to resolve the ‘ecological crisis’ facing Pacific Islanders especially its indigenous populations. Aptly called Reweaving the Ecological Mat, in collaboration with civil society organizations and academic institutions like the University of the South Pacific, it is building the foundations of an Ecological Framework for Development that will guide its engagements with its members and offer governments alternatives on development.
In April this year, with the double threats to livelihoods from COVID-19 and Severe Tropical Cyclone Harold, the PCC established its ‘Food Bank and Urban Farm’ in the heart of Suva City, as a model for replication in other Pacific countries. As the food is harvested it will be offered for free at a roadside stall. Some of the crops will be distributed to informal squatter settlements, homes for the destitute and aged care facilities.
Member churches have followed suit and utilised resources available under this initiative, including accessing training, seedlings and farming equipment to encourage communities to help themselves. The Tongan and Vanuatu national councils of churches have asked for support to form similar food banks and money will be sent to facilitate these requests.
As Pacific Islanders, just like our faith, we share similar challenges and are resilient to help ourselves, when our governments are not in a position to do so. It is through building solidarity across existing structures that we can face both the climate crisis and the global pandemic, and we don’t have to look far for living examples of how to do it.
Patricia Mallam is the Senior Communications Specialist at 350 Pacific
A major evaluation of climate adaptation projects in the Pacific argues that bottom-up, community-led projects have performed better than many top-down, donor-driven initiatives.
The study, published in the prestigious journal Nature Climate Change, reports that “locally funded initiatives and those implemented by non-governmental organisations were more likely to perform better, and climate awareness raising initiatives and those integrated with ecosystem-based adaptation performed best.”
The research team was led by Professor Karen McNamara of the University of Queensland and Professor Patrick Nunn of the University of the Sunshine Coast. The team evaluated climate adaptation projects in twenty rural communities across four Pacific countries – Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati and Vanuatu – allowing comparison between low-lying atoll nations, high island states or those with both features.
The adaptation projects at community-level addressed a range of issues: enhancing food or water security; prevention of land loss; community relocation; climate change awareness raising; marine resources protection; and enhancing financial security.
For lead researcher Patrick Nunn, the best outcomes were found when projects are appropriate to local context, tailored to cultural specificities as well as community priorities, resources and livelihoods.
Nunn is well known in the region, working at the University of the South Pacific (USP) for 25 years. He was appointed to a Personal Chair as USP Professor of Oceanic Geoscience in 1997. Since 2014, he has worked as Professor of Geography at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. Nunn has now been appointed as lead author of the ‘Small Islands’ chapter for the next 6th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the main scientific body that reports to the global climate negotiations.
He noted: “Our study recommends four inter-dependent priorities for future community-based adaptation initiatives: local approval and ownership; shared access to and benefit from initiatives; integration of local realities; and systems-thinking and forward planning.”
In collaboration with the Pacific Conference of Churches, WWF Pacific, Conservation Society of Pohnpei and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, the evaluation looked at community projects across the region funded by different donors and managed by different organisations.
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The global coronavirus pandemic has pushed climate change off the front pages, but the challenge of responding to the climate emergency has not disappeared.
Global emissions of greenhouse gases will likely drop in coming months, as air travel is reduced, international trade falters and many countries prepare for economic recession.
But later this year, governments must decide how to resume global negotiations to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The next Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is scheduled for Glasgow, Scotland, in November this year.
If governments come together on schedule, the battle will resume over Australia’s proposal to use “carryover credits” to meet its targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the largest member of the Pacific Islands Forum, Australia stands alone in the belief that it can meet its Paris Agreement target for emissions reduction by using credits obtained under the Kyoto Protocol, when it ends.
UNDERSTANDING THE NUMBERS
The measurement of emissions has been debated since the 1997 adoption of the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC. Coming into force in 2005, Kyoto’s first commitment period ran from 2008 to 2012, with a second commitment period from 2013 until this year. From 2020, the provisions of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change come into play.
Unlike Kyoto, which set binding emissions reduction targets for just 36 industrialised countries and the European Union, the Paris Agreement is legally binding for 194 states, both developed and developing; the United States under President Donald Trump is the only nation that has announced its withdrawal after signing the treaty. Under the Paris Agreement, countries make a voluntary emissions reduction commitment – known as a Nationally Determined Contribution – with a target set for 2030.
The debate over emissions reductions and carryover credits can be confusing, as countries use different baselines to set their targets. Some commitments to reduce emissions include all sectors of the economy, while others exclude certain sectors (agriculture, land clearing and deforestation, transport, energy etc). Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) states: “Under the Paris Agreement, Australia has committed to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. This builds on our target under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.”
At the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, Prime Minister Morrison repeatedly stressed that Australia is on track to “meet and beat” these Kyoto and Paris targets. This was reaffirmed in Australia’s official statement to COP25 in Madrid, when Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said: “Our recently released forecasts say that we expect to beat our 2020 targets by 411 million tonnes, which is around 80 per cent of a full year of emissions.”
This magic figure of 411 million tonnes comes from Canberra’s latest official emissions projections, released in December 2019. They state that Australia went beyond its target for the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008–2012), gaining credit for 128 million tonnes of Co2 equivalent (Mt CO2-e). Further emissions reductions in the second Kyoto period (2013-2020) bring the total credits to 411 million tonnes.
There are two key reasons that Australia went beyond its Kyoto targets. Firstly, Australia had very high domestic emissions from deforestation in 1990, the baseline year to measure targets. With reduced land clearing and deforestation in subsequent years, overall emissions reduced without the need to cut as much greenhouse gas from coalfired power stations or energy-intensive manufacturing industries like aluminium and cement.
The second source of credits comes from tough Australian diplomatic tactics during the Kyoto negotiations. Instead of a reduction of emissions, the Howard government won an increase of 8 per cent in its emissions in the first Kyoto commitment period. For the second Kyoto period, only a minimal 0.5 per cent reduction was required. With far less ambitious targets than other comparable developed countries, Australia is now claiming to have “overachieved.”
In the real world, however, the actual reduction of Australian greenhouse gas emissions is projected to be 14-16 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, rather than the official target of 26-28 per cent. In order to “meet and beat” the Paris Agreement target, therefore, Australia must use some or all of the Kyoto-era credits.
The government’s policies on Kyoto credits are backed by the coal mining industry, which is seeking to expand rather than reduce operations in coming years. The Minerals Council of Australia has argued that “the use of Kyoto carryover credits has long been accepted and is allowable under the Paris Agreement”.
This argument, however, is ridiculed by legal experts. Last month, nine law professors wrote to Prime Minister Morrison stating that there is no legal basis to meet half of Australia’s emissions targets by using carryover credits: “Our considered view is that the proposed use of these ‘Kyoto credits’ to meet targets under the Paris Agreement is legally baseless at international law. The Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement are entirely separate treaties. There is no provision in the Paris Agreement that refers to the Kyoto Protocol nor to the units established under it.”
Politically, Australia is isolated from most international opinion on this issue. While Russia and Ukraine have suggested they might use these credits, all major OECD countries – Britain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Norway and others – have expressly ruled out their use. Last October, Australian Department of Environment and Energy officials admitted to a Senate hearing: “We are not aware of other countries that are intending to use carry over. Just Australia.”
Professor Frank Jotzo of the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy is a leading climate policy analyst. For COP25, Jotzo was critical of the proposed use of Kyoto carryover credits: “We are the only country planning to ‘carry over.’ Almost all countries that care are opposed to it. It reminds the world of the ‘Australia clause’ which the Howard government pushed through at the 1997 Kyoto summit, allowing Australia to count land-use change reductions. It is what created the Kyoto carry-over credits in the first place.”
By themselves, Australian use of carryover credits wouldn’t break the Paris Agreement. However globally, there are billions of tonnes of credits around the world generated during the Kyoto years. Many climate analysts are concerned that Australian efforts to water down its climate targets through accounting loopholes will only encourage other major countries like Russia, Brazil and China to follow suit.
Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC executive secretary between 2010 to 2016, visited Australia in March and accused the Morrison government of “cheating” on its emissions targets.
“If you go as a tennis player to the Australian Open, and you get your final score and your final standing, do you then progress to Wimbledon and pick up the scores that you had from the Australian Open? It just doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “It is not legal, it is not correct, it is not moral. It is cheating, period. When you finish one tournament – and the Kyoto Protocol has finished – then you start the next. But you do not pull something from the previous efforts and the previous regulatory framework to the next one.”
PACIFIC OPPOSES CREDITS
Pacific governments have joined other developing states to condemn any use of Kyoto credits to reach Paris targets. The 2019 summit of the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF)
in Nadi called on “relevant parties to the Kyoto Protocol to refrain from using ‘carryover credits’ as an abatement for the additional Paris Agreement emissions reduction targets.”
Last November at COP25 in Madrid, developing countries tried to include new text into the rulebook for the Paris Agreement that would ban the use of Kyoto carryover credits. During the negotiations, this ban was supported by three major negotiating blocs that include many Small Island Developing States: the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Least Developed Countries group (LDCs) and the independent alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean.
However, the UNFCCC negotiations work on consensus, and these changes to the rulebook were not enacted in Madrid– they’ll be discussed again at the next UNFCCC meeting in June and COP26 in Glasgow.
In the final hours of the Madrid conference, Pacific delegations joined Germany, France, Britain, and other nations to condemn efforts by Brazil and Australia to weaken carbon markets. New Zealand, Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, Cook Islands and Fiji were amongst a group of 27 countries that issued the ‘San Jose Principles for High Ambition and Integrity in International Carbon Markets.’ Amongst 11 measures, these San Jose principles expressly “prohibit the use of pre2020 units, Kyoto units and allowances, and any underlying reductions toward Paris Agreement and other international goals.”
Instead of reliance on past efforts, ANU’s Professor Frank Jotzo has called for new government-to-government initiatives, creating a system with neighbouring countries for sharing the credit for bilateral initiatives to cut emissions: “Combined with meaningful action to cut emissions at home, it would signal that Australian ingenuity can be used to address climate change, not just for creative accounting. As the developed country most affected by climate change, it is in our interest to lead by example, not to be seen as a recalcitrant.”
The future of this debate is in the wind. The current global crisis around the COVID-19 coronavirus involves economic and social effects that make the future of climate policy hard to predict. Even so, governments around the world are adopting tactics that will be required to respond to the climate emergency; drawing on the advice of scientific experts rather than ideologies prioritising the health and wellbeing of citizens over existing priorities on debt and deficit, massive financial support to industries affected by the crisis, establishing “whole of government” taskforces and even governments of national unity.
Will we slip back to business as usual on climate policy, or will the experience of working together on COVID-19 provide a model for national and global co-operation in response to the ongoing climate emergency?