World should heed Pacific warning

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday December 2nd, 2015

 PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill conveyed a powerful message to world leaders on Monday about the imminent threats by climate change on Pacific islanders, including Papua New Guinea.

His warning to the leaders, who are attending the COP21 UN climate change conference in Paris this week, to find a workable solution to save lives and protect island communities, was amplified by other regional leaders.

O’Neill said the effect of climate change was evident in PNG’s Carteret Islands, islands in Manus and the outer atolls in coastal provinces that experienced the rise in the sea level. 

Other Pacific Island leaders told the conference that they are already feeling the effects of climate change and urgent action is needed. Climate change is not just an environmental issue but a humanitarian one, they said.

Kiribati President Anote Tong issued a stern warning, saying his small island state may no longer exist in just 60 years because of rising sea levels if something dramatic is not done. 

O’Neill and other Pacific Island leaders pleaded for the world to think about what it felt like to face inundation.

Global leaders delivered the familiar warnings. 

“A political moment like this may not come again,” UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, said.

While the Paris conference is a turning point for the climate change issue, there is a danger that warnings and pleadings by leaders of small island states like PNG and Kiribati may not be taken seriously by the global powers.

It is therefore heartening to have the full support of US President Barack Obama who met O’Neill yesterday to discuss the concerns of island communities affected by climate change.

Their discussion was a follow-up to their recent meeting at the APEC Leaders’ Summit in Manila, Philippines, where the two leaders discussed the effect of climate change in the region.

Obama had come to Paris with a message of hope and urgency, saying climate change would “define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other”. 

It is envisaged that the US president, who will leave office at the end of next year, will use his global influence to persuade the developed nations to come to the rescue of Pacific islanders facing the threat of climate change.

While all contributions from the 195 countries at the Paris conference will be important, three are critical. China, the United States and India hold the key to large-scale global progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

So far, the UN climate process has faced the challenge of rallying all countries behind one unified resolution. While this remains crucial, efforts to build global consensus are increasingly varied, emphasising the role that multilateral, national and sub-national policies can play in responding to the unique circumstances faced by societies around the globe. 

The Paris meeting reflects this shift, as the UN increasingly looks to shape the individual national commitments of countries around the world into a new, dynamic global compact. 

This approach creates encouraging possibilities for China, the US and India – which together make up roughly 40 per cent of global carbon emissions – to become global leaders in a new and more sustainable energy future.

The US and China have proved that real progress can be made on climate both nationally and through bilateral cooperation. The two countries have converged significantly over the past two years, embracing goals for reducing emissions, raising energy efficiency standards and expanding renewable energy deployment in the near and long terms. 

India and the US likewise agreed to a range of cooperative clean energy projects in January this year. Under the US-India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy, these projects saw a joint commitment to advance research and development, clean energy and finance mechanisms, and cooperation on appliance efficiency and clean energy storage. 

What happens in Paris is critical in developing a global climate framework to keep temperature increases within 2C. More critical again is what happens after Paris to give effect to this framework on the ground.

If the US, China and India develop cooperative climate change strategies – including strong financing models – the “big three” can help bridge the divide between the developing and developed countries involved in climate negotiations. Alongside the many challenges, there is historic opportunity.