Climate change could wipe out the Pacific islands. Who will defend them at the UN summit?

Just days before the start of the United Nations climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, there is good news for a small delegation from Fiji: President Biden has not refused to meet with them.

“The meeting has not been guaranteed, but is not yet ruled out,” Satyendra Prasad, Fiji’s ambassador to the UN, said on Friday. “Let’s see,” he wrote hopefully. “These things come into place on a daily basis [of]. ”

For small countries like Fiji and other Pacific islands, face-to-face meetings with the leaders of the richest and most powerful countries in the world have never been so crucial or difficult. Their survival is at stake. These nations face major environmental challenges, from rising sea levels that could wipe out entire villages and destroy the tourism industry, to the destruction of coral reefs.

In the last five years, Fiji has withstood 13 cyclones, of which the three most devastating are category 5. After one of these storms, the country’s gross domestic product, a measure of goods and services rendered, fell by 30%.

Aerial view of the coral coast of Fiji. Climate change poses a long-term threat to the region’s marine environment.

(Reef Explorer Figi via AFP via Getty Images)

The country has to face the likely possibility that it will have to relocate many coastal communities where life may soon become unsustainable due to rising sea levels.

“Every two to three months, you have to face people who have just lost their homes and look at you and ask you,‘ Once again? ’” Prasad said. “You think about moments like these at these big international meetings.”

Due to travel restrictions due to COVID-19, the Heads of State will represent only four Pacific island nations at the World Climate Summit this year – Fiji, Palau, Papua New Guinea and Tuvalu, with the remaining 11 remaining small groups of delegates. and volunteers from nonprofits. This has raised concerns that the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and least responsible for the carbon emissions caused by rising temperatures will be barely present at what is considered to be the most important climate conference since Paris Agreement of 2015.

“I am very concerned about the Pacific states,” Prasad said. “We’re not big players on the world stage, but it’s been an extremely difficult year.”

Due to the low participation of island states, the burden of representing those who cannot travel to Scotland will largely fall on the leaders who can. Prasad said he expects four heads of state, including the Fiji prime minister, to work “almost 24 hours a day” during the two-week summit, which he described is equivalent to one year of Zoom meetings in one day.

On the agenda of small island states: putting pressure on the leaders of rich, industrialized countries to spend more money to help tackle the effects of climate change and move to cleaner energy sources.

In 2009, the U.S. and other developed countries agreed to provide $ 100 billion a year to developing countries by 2020. But this promise was never fully fulfilled. Rich countries have failed to raise more than $ 80 billion a year. And in a recent report, diplomats from Canada and Germany predicted that they would not be able to achieve their goal by 2023 – three years later.

The sun sets behind the mountains of the island of Viti Levu

The sun sets behind the mountains of the island of Viti Levu in Suva, Figi, in May 2000.

(Torsten Blackwood / AFP via Getty Images)

Frank Bainimarama, the Prime Minister of Fiji, went much further in his request for help. In a speech to the UN General Assembly earlier this year, he called on rich countries to increase their financial obligations to at least $ 750 billion a year from 2025. The limited funding that exists for developing countries is often unavailable due to complex lending. requirements, he said, adding that future aid should take the form of grants that do not require countries in difficulty to borrow.

“I’m tired of applauding the resilience of my people,” Bainimarama said. “True resilience is not only defined by the strength of the state, but by our access to financial resources.”

Concerns that developing country leaders will not be able to attend the summit have been growing for months, prompting a coalition of more than 1,500 environmental advocacy groups to the top is postponed also this year, as in 2020. In September, he is chairman of the 46-member group least developed countries, known as the least developed countries, described British quarantine requirements and the lack of commercial flights from Pacific island countries as hampering their ability to cooperate and express their property personally.

Last week, England announced it was lifting requirements for quarantined passengers and removing the last seven countries from its “red list” because of the risk of coronavirus. But this decision came too late – small countries without easy access to vaccines and money for travel have already completed their limited delegations.

“The fact that they don’t have their votes there definitely affects representation and inclusion,” said Tracy Kajumba, a researcher at London’s International Institute for Environment and Development think tank.

Women and people from developing countries are already under-represented among delegates and event organizers, she said, and that imbalance is likely to worsen this year. “These are the voices that really need to be on the COP,” she said.

Prasad said Pacific Island leaders attending the conference will need to speak on behalf of their missing peers, ideally in as many face-to-face meetings with G-20 leaders as possible.

Getting on the schedules of these leaders is difficult for small island states under normal circumstances. It often means agreeing to meetings during a conference late in the evening or early in the morning or on the outskirts – for example, you catch heads of state leaving one meeting and heading for the next.

“Our leaders need to be determined and very clear and sometimes quite undiplomatic in ensuring that they can project what our communities and our people want to do,” Prasad said.

Pacific islands and developing countries may have had an impact in the past. In 2015, they fought and won the language in the Paris Climate Agreement, which committed world leaders to raising temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius and, if possible, to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But since then, most industrialized countries have failed to meet their emission reduction targets. A recent UN climate report showed that even if countries introduce the strictest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that heat the atmosphere today, global warming is likely to exceed 1.5 degrees in the next two decades.

The mission of Fiji and other Pacific island nations in Glasgow is clear: to keep 1.5 targets alive, Prasad said. “We can’t think about the future over this.”

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