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FEATURE: What do leaders of Small Island Developing States say about living with climate change?

Kiran Sura, CDKN’s Head of Advocacy Fund, reviews discussions from the CDKN side event at the Third United Nations Conference for Small Island Developing States. In a related blog, “Island voices, global choices,”  she highlights major currents in the SIDS Summit as a whole.

CDKN and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre led a lively discussion among Small Island Developing States (SIDS) representatives on how to join climate science with action on the ground for climate-resilient economies, at the Third United Nations Conference for Small Island Developing States, in Apia, Samoa, earlier this month. The conversation focused on getting ‘the right information to the right people at the right time’ to manage climate-related disaster risks and foster climate-smart development planning in small islands. To read more on the discussions, please view this background feature, “Island voices, global choices”: reviewing the UN conference on Small Island Developing States.

Representatives from government, businesses, third sector organisations and civil society attended the launch of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report: What’s in it for Small Island Developing States? – a guide from CDKN and the Overseas Development Institute. The guide succinctly distils the richest material from the Fifth Assessment Report to raise awareness of what climate change means for these states and is part of a larger communications toolkit produced by CDKN on the report.

Hon. Faamoetauloa Lealaialoto Taito Dr. Faale Tumaalii, Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment for Samoa, welcomed the report and encouraged individuals to share how they are using scientific information to deliver sustainable development and action on climate change. Dr. Kenrick Leslie, Director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, then led a panel of distinguished speakers to discuss how they are using the latest scientific, environmental, economic and social information to address climate change, prepare for climate disasters and in international climate negotiations.

Dr. Elizabeth Carabine of CDKN outlined the key findings from the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report: What’s in it for Small Island Developing States? highlighting how the IPCC has gone further than ever before on presenting the causes, consequences and responses to climate change across SIDS. Whilst the SIDS share common challenges, the type and scale of impacts will vary across SIDS in the Pacific, the Caribbean and Indian Ocean regions. What is applicable across the islands, regardless of geography, is that climate change approaches should be integrated with sustainable development, energy and disaster risk approaches to enable the islands to achieve the economies of scale to attract finance, exploit synergies and deliver real change.

Dr. Neville Trotz, Deputy Director for the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, discussed the Caribbean’s regional framework for delivering climate resilient development and how they propose to implement this plan; however, ‘red tape’ has prevented the region from taking action as quickly as they would have liked. Slow progress not only increases the region’s vulnerability to climate impacts, but it also means the evidence underpinning the case for action and attracting finance can very quickly become outdated. This is in addition to the challenge of downscaling projections from global climate models to deliver meaningful insights.

Evaipomana Tu’holoaki, from the International Federation for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), discussed how the evidence confirms that climate change is increasing disaster risk for millions of the world’s most vulnerable people, especially those living in SIDS. However, whilst ‘the science’ is the foundation of action, translation is needed to ensure people have the right information at the right time, and to increase awareness and preparedness. A range of innovative partnerships from across the Pacific region demonstrate how communities and states are working together to strengthen resilience and preparedness as a first line of defence for vulnerable people in risk-prone countries. Looking to the future, the IFRC will be scaling up humanitarian response and preparedness, and will continue to reduce risk through better understanding and implementation of early warning information and systems at the national, regional and community level.

Olai Uludong, the Chief Climate Change Negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, noted that as international climate negotiations enter a critical period, the timely findings of the Fifth Assessment Report have reinforced the case for immediate and ambitious action to curb emissions to give the world a fighting chance of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius. The ‘science’ is used to formulate negotiating positions, and the findings of the report will be a critical input for developing Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, which all Parties must submit in advance of talks in Paris next year.

These panel presentations stimulated much discussion from the audience, with contributions addressing the importance of civil society in implementing climate information, the role of traditional and local knowledge in adapting to climate change in SIDS and the need for greater awareness within society to effect change at leadership level. Discussion also focussed around the negotiations process and how the latest scientific evidence can support SIDS’ positions at the upcoming UNFCCC CoPs in Lima and Paris.

Whilst there is overwhelming and growing evidence that SIDS are amongst the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and amongst the least responsible for causing the warming we are experiencing, progress in securing a global climate agreement has been frustratingly slow. However, Dr. Leslie remarked on the importance of climate change being framed as a sustainable development issue, rather than a purely environmental one, and, as Hon Faamoetauloa Lealaialoto Taito Dr. Faale Tumaalii stated in his closing remarks, SIDS are not doing nothing. He used the Majuro Declaration, launched at last year’s Pacific Island Forum Summit, as an example of how the islands are taking on an important leadership role, and encouraged all to continue to makes the voices of SIDS heard until real progress is achieved.

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