Massive floods, devastating wildfires, and rising seas – along with the countless lives they take and livelihoods they upend – are realities many nations are already facing. Voices from the front lines of climate change and its impacts were centre stage to start week two of COP26, which kicked off Monday in Glasgow with a focus on ‘adaptation, loss and damage’.
Their main call: developed countries must uphold their promise of finance and support to the small states that are at risk of losing so much to the combat against climate change.
“From the ocean came forth life, peace and comfort, a world not known to most but that was one with my people…We will remember a time when our homes stood proud and tall, for today they stand no more. That place is now taken by the ocean”.
The eighth day of the UN Climate Conference began with a poem recited by an activist from Papua New Guinea, an island nation that lies in the South-western Pacific. Her words resonated throughout the meeting room in the Blue Zone, while tears appeared to be rolling down her cheeks.
“We will never know when the tide raises and swallows our homes. Our cultures, our languages and our traditions will be taken by the ocean. When you say by 2030 to 2050, how can you see deadlines 9 to 29 years away when my people have proved that we must act now and not waste any more time,” she said, explaining that the ocean that once gave her people life, now has become an “executioner”.
She was not alone. Just a few metres away in a different room, another young woman and survivor of Super Typhoon Haiyan which hit the Philippines exactly eight years ago today, had an equally stark message for the world:
“They stopped counting when the death toll reached 6,000, but there are 1,600 bodies still missing. Today, we are still shouting for justice for our friends and families who have lost their lives due to climate disasters. The Philippines’ youth are fighting for a future that is not riddled with anxiety and fear that another Haiyan might come at any time to threaten our loved one’s lives and dreams. We do not deserve to live in fear”, she said.
For her, COP26 should be an opportunity to champion the ‘loss and damage agenda’.
“Today exactly eight years since Haiyan changed drastically the live of Filipinos, impacts of the climate change are only getting worse. They shouldn’t have to wait for justice,” she said, adding that companies and other carbon emitters should be held responsible.
The fight for ‘loss and damage’
The term ‘loss and damage’ is used within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process to refer to the harms caused by man-made climate change.
However, the appropriate response to this issue has been disputed since the Convention’s adoption.
Establishing liability and compensation for loss and damage has been a long-standing goal for vulnerable and developing countries in the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the Least Developed Countries Group in negotiations. However, developed countries have for years resisted calls to have a proper discussion of the issue.
“Six years after the Paris Agreement, which has its own article on loss and damage, small countries still have to fight to have an agenda item on [this] at COP,” said a representative of the NGO Climate International during a press conference.
The other big theme of the day: adaptation, also has a finance issue involved. Leaders from Small Islands Developing States made clear that last’s week commitments on forests, agriculture, private finance and other matters are still not enough.
“We welcome the new commitments made last week, but in due respect to be honest I can’t feel any excitement for them… Several new pledges are missing, and others have shown up with insufficient commitments that have succeed only in putting speedbumps on the road that leads to the wrong side of 1.5 degrees of warming,” said Frank Bainimarama, the Prime Minister of Fiji.
The broken promise
Last week’s announcement that the promise of $100 billion a year for climate finance initiatives in developing countries will be delayed again was the ‘big elephant of the room’ on Monday, but it was acknowledged by many leaders.
“The developed nations are failing us, they’re the ones with the resources and technology to make a difference yet they have left potential for clean energy and adaptation off the table by missing the $100 billion pledge two years running… We, the most vulnerable are told to suck it up and wait until 2023”, added Mr. Bainimarama.
The Prime Minister reminded that since the signing of the Paris Agreement, 13 cyclones have struck Fiji, and as such, building up resilience must not be delayed, and for that, money is required “plain and simple.”
“I’m not prepared along with every Fijian to do what is necessary to secure our food chain and ensure we can grow our island economy. We have solutions and we are always keen to show our experience”, he highlighted, telling delegates that they have also already offered refuge to people of the island nations of Kiribati and Tuvalu in case their homes are the first to disappear.
Grenada’s Climate and Environment Minister Simon Stiell also said the promises made last week need to be trickled down to show meaningful action on the ground.
“Climate change for us in the islands is not an abstract thing. It is real and it is lived every single day and if mitigation is a marathon getting us to that 1.5 target, adaptation is the sprint as we battle the impacts and the urgency to protect life and livelihoods”, he underscored.
Meanwhile, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, climate envoy from the Marshall Islands said that science is starting to reveal that adaptation measures are going to cost way more than $100 billion a year.
“We are looking at several billions of dollars for implementing our national adaptation plans. We’ve received preliminary studies that show us estimates of tens of billions for reclaiming land, elevating parts of our lands, and internal migration. When we negotiate a new finance target by 2025 it must be based on science. The first target was an estimate,” she explained.
Obama, ‘island kid’, calls for ‘action now’
In a surprise for some COP26 attendants, former US president Barack Obama attended the meeting with the representatives of island states.
Being born and raised in Hawaii, he called himself an ‘island kid’ and said that the world is not doing enough for the islands, that are threatened more than ever.
“This is not something that’s 10, 20 or 30 years down the road: this is now, and we have to act now,” he stated.
He invited delegates to move forward by uniting forces.
Quoting an old Hawaiian saying, Mr. Obama added: “If you want to paddle a canoe you better all be rowing in the same direction at the same time. That’s the only way that you move forward. That’s the kind of spirit that you need to move forward.”
Later in the day, Mr. Obama addressed the COP26 plenary, where he made a commitment to push for climate action as a private citizen and made clear that keeping temperatures to below 1.5C is going to ‘be hard’.
“International cooperation has always been difficult; it is made more difficult by misinformation and propaganda that comes out of social media these days... Getting people to work together on a global scale takes time, and that’s time we don’t have ... If we work hard enough for long enough, those partial victories add up.”
He also encouraged young people to speak to their families about climate change.
“Our planet has been wounded by our actions. Those wounds won’t be healed today or tomorrow [but] I believe we can secure a better future. We have to.” he said.
The state of COP26 negotiations
Meanwhile, the COP26 presidency held a ‘stock take event’ to discuss the current state of the negotiations at the conference. Fittingly, representatives of developing countries made a strong call to resolve remaining items left on the agenda with a special emphasis on finance.
They also said that the plethora of commitments announced last week are welcomed, but action remains to be seen.
“A COP without a concrete finance cannot be called successful,” said the Minister negotiator of Guinea representing the countries of the G77 and China.
“We are disappointed that developed countries are not willing to discuss finance matters”, he added, accusing them of making some “empty promises.”
Antigua and Barbuda, representing the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), addressed the failure to deliver $100 billion of climate finance by developed countries, as well as the uncertainty of adaptation finance, stressing that ambition must be much higher.
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, it doesn’t make a sound. The NDC synthesis event took place briefly late at night in a small room with a musical interlude. Colleagues, we weren’t there to hear it. The report reveals a huge ambition gap, we need stronger 2030 NDCs with concrete implementation plans”, the Minister said, highlighting that the report, which discusses national commitments to reduce carbon emissions, indicates a 13 per cent increase in emissions, instead of the 45 per cent reduction needed to curb global warming.
Bhutan, representing the group of Least Developed Countries (LDC) lamented that public statements made by countries often differ to what is heard at the negotiations.
“We came to Glasgow with high expectations. We need strong commitments to ensure the survival of the billion people living in the LDCs in the future. There are still key items in the negotiations that we need to resolve this week”, he underscored.
The representative was referring to the items of transparency, carbon markets, the so called ‘Paris Rulebook’ [the rules needed to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement], as well as finance, which the COP26 presidency announced will be addressed in this final week of negotiations.
‘Life or death’
For Bernard Ewekia, a student who came all the way from the islands of Tuvalu in the Pacific, words aren’t enough either for the survival of his people.
“There’s already five islands around Tuvalu that have disappeared, and I want world leaders to set the pledges, but also act now before my country disappears altogether”, he told UN News at his country’s pavilion, which features images of a group of polar bears and a penguin that share with his people the threat of extinction due to climate change.
For the young poet from Papua New Guinea whose moving oratory opened today’s events, real solutions lay within communities, so supporting them is indispensable to adaptation and mitigation.
“Remove the timelines. My people are the solutions. This is our land, and we have the connections. Let us work together and let us our story be told. Trust us to lead our solutions locally and act now”.
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