The Talanoa Dialogue: Small Island States call for more robust commitments

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Channel 5, Great Belize Television, Katowice, Poland

Back in 2015 an agreement reached at the United Nations climate change summit in Paris made provisions for formal discussions among parties to check the progress of their efforts to limit global warming in 2018. At last year’s Conference of Parties, or COP, that “facilitative dialogue” was renamed the Talanoa Dialogue. Fiji introduced the Talanoa as its way to take stock of what countries are doing to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

“To use a traditional way of communicating in the Pacific, in which the people, if they have a problem, they resolve it by telling stories. And telling stories, they generate empathy and then they get collective action towards an end," said Carlos Fuller, a negotiator for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

The process started earlier this year with technical dialogues among the parties at the international, regional and national levels. This traditional approach also accepted stories and evidence of climate change from cities, non-profit organizations, civil society groups and governments. The Talanoa Dialogue started yesterday, Tuesday, and culminated today, Wednesday, at the COP24 in Katowice, Poland, with the SIDS hoping for more than just a political declaration.

“It will culminate here in Katowice, with a closing technical session and the political process began. There were several Talanoas of groups of about ten ministers and civil society during the day yesterday. And the presidency today will bring all of that together and have a final outcome. From a small islands perspective, we would like the outcome to also contribute to a decision because the whole purpose of the Talanoa dialogue was to ramp up the NDCs to make them much stronger," said Fuller.

The Talanoa is not legally binding, he said, "and that is why we would like the outcome, besides being a political declaration which is what is going to occur, is that it also goes into a COP decision; where it says based on the findings of the Talanoa Dialogue, parties are committed to doing x,y,z.”

The Small Island Developing States, of which the Pacific islands are a part of, are some of the most vulnerable to climate change. Rising sea levels, extreme heat and rainfall are just a few of the threats to the existence of millions of people in these low-low-lying states. And so for SIDS, it is critical that the Talanoa Dialogue achieves what it has set out to do.

“Because the current set of NDCs only provide for a three degree level of warming, while the Paris Agreement itself says we must go as far below two degrees Celsius as possible, aiming for one point five," Fuller said. "So, that is the outcome that we are hoping for today.”

 On Tuesday, Fuller participated in a Talanoa on behalf of Belize. There he shared stories about how Belize and Belizeans are affected by climate change.

“I referenced the World Met Organization state of the climate report that said that the past four years are the warmest on record; that current concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are at an all-time high, never before seen in the past three to five million years," Fuller explained. "And when that did occur five million years ago, sea levels were fifteen feet above the present level, which means that Belize City, the coastline of Belize and all our cayes would have been under water. So, I say that is unacceptable for us. It is a matter of survival.”

But we’ll only know if the Talanoa Dialogue makes a difference if countries adjust their pledges over the next year to make them more ambitious than what was set out in the Paris Agreement.