Pacific absent at climate change conference

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Earth Journalism Network, Rotterdam, Netherlands

An international conference on climate change opened in Europe in the Netherlands city of Rotterdam this week with almost zero representation of the islands of the Pacific.

If it wasn’t for the attendance of three journalists from Vanuatu, Samoa and Fiji, the Pacific’s presence at the four-day Adaptation Futures 2016 conference in Rotterdam in the Netherlands would have amounted to only one delegate out of the 1674 registered from 102 countries.

Long time freelance journalist and president of the Media Association of Vanuatu, Evelyne Toa, Samoa’s communication specialist and veteran journalist Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson and the writer from Islands Business magazine in Fiji are covering the international conference at the invitation of the global network of environmental journalists, the Internews Earth Journalism Network.

The three joined 17 other senior journalists and editors from Asia and Africa in Rotterdam for a two day training workshop on environmental journalism, prior to the opening of Adaptation Futures 2016 on Tuesday at the Rotterdam’s World Trade Centre complex.

From left: Pacific Islands journalists Cherelle Jackson, Samisoni Pareti, and Evelyn Toa

The conference is a biennial one that was first hosted by Australia in 2010 and it brings together representatives of academia, private sector, researchers and civil society organisations from mainly developed and wealthier nations in Europe and North America, although there are also heavy representations of developing countries from Africa and Asia to discuss and share climate change adaptation initiatives, as Adaptation Futures conferences are ‘solution-based,’ where delegates exchange information about projects and initiatives on climate change adaptation that have worked. The Dutch Government is hosting this year’s conference after the United States and Brazil hosted it in 2012 and 2014, respectively.

The Federated States of Micronesia is the only Pacific Island nation listed in the official delegate list at the Rotterdam conference. Lisa Andon is to present on the region’s Micronesia Conservation Trust, a biodiversity conservation initiative that links the FSM with its four other northern Micronesian neighbours of Palau, Marshall Islands, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The Office of the Prime Minister of Vanuatu had reportedly sent a delegate to the Rotterdam conference, although his name is not listed in the official conference delegation list.

Being a private sector driven conference, delegates either from the private or the public sectors pay for their own travel and participation, unlike major United Nation climate change conferences in which the UN subsidises the participation of member nations.

There have been no explanations offered as to why most island countries of the Pacific stayed away from this international conference on climate change adaptation. At the opening session on Tuesday, speakers all agreed that with the adoption of the Paris Agreement last December, the time for talking or negotiation was over. Now is the time for action and implementation.

Christiana Figueres, the outgoing head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change spoke passionately about the urgency of taking action, urging the scientific and business communities of the world to “swallow an alarm clock.”

Under a target of keeping world temperature rise at well below 2 degrees as contained in the UNFCCC’s Paris Agreement last December, the world can emit no more than 1,000 giga-tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, Figueres told delegates at Adaptation Futures 2016. “But to align to the 1 point 5 degrees target, we have only 600 giga-tonnes of CO2 left to emit,” she said. “The world has only 5 more years left before they need to quickly reduce and bring down their level of carbon emissions.”

“While mitigation is technology driven,” Figueres said, adaptation to climate change on the other hand is “people centred, it’s about the quality of life.” The former diplomat from Costa Rica who in February announced her decision to step down as UNFCCC executive secretary was emotional when she urged delegates to consider the plight of people, women especially who have lost their homes and land as a result of climate change.

Among the women she named was Namuea, a young woman in Kiribati who Figueres said worries about whether she would be able to build her future on her atoll island home.

The European Commission’s Director General for Research and Innovation Robert-Jan Smits spoke about the commitment of the EU to the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change, and about the ambitions of the EU to become the most climate resilient region of the world.

Adaptation Futures 2016 ends on Friday with field visits to climate adaptation sites and projects in the Netherlands.