D-Day for Fiji’s Talanoa

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InfoPacific, Katowice, Poland

By tomorrow the world will know whether Poland’s hosting of the UN climate change summit, commonly known as COP24, has succeeded in delivering a strong outcome, and by extension whether Fiji's exported concept of talanoa or dialogue had aided in producing such a good outcome.

As I write this, the prospect is bleak.

Parties of the Paris Agreement on climate change are still bickering over the text of what is supposed to be the rule book of the agreement. Developing countries are crying foul that wealthier nations are trying to renegotiate the Paris Agreement, instead of working on its implementation. One of the civil society groups following the negotiations here in Katowice, Third World Network, accuses the United States in particular for stalling the negotiations, assisted by Australia.

“It’s clearly the elephant in the room. The United States had stated its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement but it is still very much influencing negotiations here in Katowice,” Meenakshi Raman from the Third World Network told journalists at a press conference held at the COP24.

A cause of alarm to negotiators from developing countries is the insistence by richer nations to remove the “historical responsibility” of climate change, the so-called "common but differentiated responsibilities" principle that was formalized in the UN climate change summit, also known as the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The CBDR principle establishes that all states have a shared obligation to address environmental destruction but yet not equally responsible for environmental protection. Without this, developed and developing nations will be treated the same in terms of carbon emission ambitions and targets.

Developing nations are also appalled by the text in the finance section of the rulebook. Many of the wealthier nations have not put any new money on the table and they seem interested only in shifting the burden to their poorer neighbors.

All these are taking place even with the release on Thursday of the Talanoa Call for Action by the Presidents of COP23 and COP24, Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Polish President Andezej Duda respectively, who in their two-page statement said that the “window for action is closing fast and that the world needs to do more and we need to do it now.”

“We saw an overwhelming support for the Paris Agreement and its goals,” the two COP leaders said. “We agreed to keep temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees (above pre-industrial levels).”

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama urges richer nations to take actions to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius at COP24 / Credit: Imelda Abano

Fiji, later on the same day, joined other island states of the Pacific in calling on richer nations to pay heed to the plight of small island developing states in finalizing the rulebook of the Paris Agreement.

“Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is a matter of survival for PSIDS (Pacific Small Islands Developing States),” said the statement released by Bainimarama and 14 other Pacific island leaders as COP24 negotiations wrapped up for the second last day. “We therefore urge the work to pursue all opportunities to maximize climate action including forest management, renewable energy and others highlighted by the Special Report 1.5 degree Celsius,” it stated.

Pacific leaders went further in calling on OECD countries to “quickly phase out their use of coal by 2030 and for all other countries to phase out their use of coal by 2040.”

The statement made no mention of Australia, a coal producing country that is the 16th member of the Pacific Islands Forum, a regional body comprising independent island nations in the Pacific.

Australia’s environment minister Melissa Price did not attend the Pacific SIDS announcement.

So will the world heed the call by vulnerable islands of the Pacific, as well as the similar calls by the so-called Talanoa Dialogue? We shall know the answer this time tomorrow.