[The Pacific Islands Forum has ended with a plea for more to be done about climate change – or else low lying nations will soon disappear.]
By Sarah Marshall
The Pacific Island Forum convened in a 4-day summit, September 3-6, to meet and discuss urgent action on climate change as well as other regional issues. The fifteen-member states, including the Marshall Islands, Australia, New Zealand, Tuvalu, Samoa, the Cook Islands, Nauru, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Micronesia, Niue, Kiribati, Palau, and the Solomon Islands, were all present. Delegations from other nations, including Canada, India, Thailand, Japan, the US, EU, Philippines, South Korea, China, and the UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) also participated.
These nations account for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and showed immense support in transitioning to low carbon economies within the coming decade. Finally, the tune of this climate convention sounded different from what the world has come to expect; this forum urged optimism and collective responsibility instead of the commonplace disputes over details.
Business leaders were also included in the discussions. The CEO of BSR (Business for Social Responsibility), Aron Cramer, released a video addressing the Forum. He articulated very important points relating to business’ involvement in climate negotiations, stating, “We are committed to catalyzing low carbon, climate-resilient development through collective action by all including urgent, ambitious, and practical business leadership.” Cramer then went on to suggest direct action businesses can take to lower emissions, including driving emission reductions through their own operations, being pioneers and “demonstrating that profitability and global stewardship are not mutually exclusive,” being more vocal about ambitious climate actions, and finally integrating sustainability questions into financial reporting. This final suggestion would symbolise a great shift in the thinking business has regarding their own impact because once a dollar amount is put on pollution, businesses pay attention.
The result of the meetings was a concise, directed document, the Majuro Declaration, which optimistically addresses the state of the climate and the commitments needed by all parties in order to curb major temperature increases. The 12-page Declaration, which will be presented by the President of the Marshall Islands, Christopher Loeak, in New York to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the end of the month, clearly specifies that a legally binding agreement should be in place by 2015 for the international community to adhere to. Also, a complete phase down of greenhouse gas pollution, as well as specifying “that the necessary energy revolution and economic transformation to low-carbon development is an unprecedented opportunity to enhance our security, protect and ensure the sustainability of our natural resources and environment, and improve our people’s health.”
After the seventeen points made, committing to the responsibility of being climate leaders, the Declaration cites prior commitments made by member states regarding energy: renewables, efficiency, access, and emissions reductions, articulating percentages and timelines for transitioning to low carbon economies.
To many around the world, these islands are mere vacation spots and honeymoon getaways, great to enjoy once in a while, but easy to forget about when it comes to worldwide investment in their futures. Yet, there is potential for a mass exodus of entire populations if these islands go underwater and this fact can no longer be ignored. The US Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, signed onto the agreement and ensured funding for vulnerable Pacific islands under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. Secretary of State, John Kerry, issued a video address, mentioning the extreme wildfires in the US this past year and major droughts on the islands combined with unprecedented sea level rise. Kerry also stressed a sense of urgency in dealing with climate change as well as preparation for impacts that are already being felt.
The international community finally seems ready to tackle the issue of climate change, after so many failed conferences with disagreements from major polluters resulting in a lack of progress and wasted time. Majuro was different and left all parties hopeful and ready to act. As the Guardian’s Environment Blog put it, “The agreement reframes the ‘I won’t move till you move first’ stance we’ve come to expect at the United Nations climate negotiations, to one of ‘I’m moving ahead and I invite you to move with me’.”
Sarah Marshall, B.S. Environmental Policy