COP 21 | The Impacts of the Outcomes - A Pacific View

Feb 2, 2016

Polikalepo Kefu (Tonga), Filifilia Iosefa (Samoa), Kenn Mondiai (PNG),Tuaine Marsters (Cook Islands), Jethro Ruling (PNG). Photo credit: Pacific Indigenous Network

As the dust settles on another year and the world re-adjusts itself ahead of 2016, this is an opportune time to re-visit the consequences of the decisions reached in 2015. 

2015 will be remembered as a year of great consequence, not only for our generation, but also for all the generations to come and for those who have fought so hard in the past to create a more equal, sustainable and just world. Significant goals were set and targets created which attempt to create such a world. One of the key examples of this was the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals - the Global Goals - which, as of 1st January 2016, was officially adopted and promoted throughout the international development community.  This is significant to the Pacific because Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have gained specific mention within a number of the goals set-out, specifically Goal 4: Education, Goal 13: Climate Change and Goal 14: Sustainable use of Ocean Resources. This is representative of the increased awareness by the international community of the uniqueness of conditions and issues that SIDS face. However, of key importance are the two main challenges for SIDS, climate change and sustainable use of oceans, which are being addressed within the SDG’s. This portrays the influence that SIDS have been able to generate through increasing awareness of the specific issues that they face.

However, what will have a greater impact on the Pacific region is the outcomes of the Paris Agreement which arose out of COP21 - held in Paris in December 2015. The Paris Agreement places the issue of climate change at the forefront of the global consciousness, and its outcomes have proven the seriousness of the issue. 

There is no doubt that climate change is real in the Pacific, and finally, a global agreement has been made that recognised this. The Agreement highlights a path into the future which promises hope for sustainability and equality, where all countries are able being called upon to take responsibility for their actions and have agreed that climate change is of national concern and can only be challenged through a unified and sustainable approach. 

One of the key outcomes of the Paris Agreement was the goal of limiting global warming to well below the 2 degrees Celsius previously set by the UNFCC through the Cancun Agreements in 2010. The Pacific has long been calling for this to be lowered to 1.5 degrees Celsius and this goal was finally realised through the Paris Agreement which urged countries to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees. This is expressly stated under Section (a) of Article 2, “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.” 

The Agreement also sets out requirements for countries to report on their emissions regularly, undergo an international review, and as well submit action plans on targeted reduction of emissions. This is a great step forward for the global community especially those countries who generate so few emissions, because now there is a mechanism which will enable them to hold other countries accountable for not reaching their targets. This is particularly significant for the Pacific, where the impacts of climate change are already being felt. 

Further, the Agreement proposes a hybrid approach that blends both bottom up participation and top-down decision-making which will further strengthen the enforcement and realisation of the targets set out in the Agreement.

These outcomes demonstrate that the voice of the Pacific has impacted the global agenda, after long and varied campaigns by Pacific Island nations. Such campaigns have involved long term efforts by country leaders, dating back to 2009 when there was first a call by to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, there have also been many bottom-up movements which have also had a definitive impact upon the current agreement. UNDP has played an important role in fostering some of these initiatives such as the Pole to Paris project and the South-South Sub-Regional (SSYSR) Conference. The SSYSR created a Joint Statement which was carried to Paris and urged leaders there to take serious and positive action against climate change.

The Pole to Paris initiative was effective in raising awareness on climate change, furthermore, the voice of the Pacific was carried and advocated by the invited representatives of the Pacific Indigenous Network. UNDP Multi-Country Office Samoa Coordination Specialist, Mr. Filifilia Iosefa, was part of this delegation, and the group advocated and became the voice of the Pacific and especially of the youth to the global climate change forum, they also advocated for the Pacific Indigenous Peoples Declaration to be included in the final outcomes document. 

However, many in the Pacific felt that the Agreement did not address well enough the issue of ‘Loss and Damage’, which focusses around the fact that SIDS are having to manage the damaging impacts of climate change. It is an issue that SIDS originally introduced into the climate change debate.  Within the Paris Agreement, Loss and Damage is referred to under Article 8, with thee Agreement deciding on the continuation of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts, following the review in 2016; Article 8 of the Agreement does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation. 

The Paris Agreement do have some very important positive implications for the Pacific. They mean that the Pacific is no longer working alone to address impacts of climate change, because now the global community is finally working and act in unison to reduce their environmental footprint. This results in a positive impact for the Pacific region; and yet, most importantly, it shows a commitment to a future that is stable, more equal and sustainable for the next generation. A commitment by the international community that recognises climate change as a global issue and as such, a universal, unified effort is paramount to stabilise the environment and save the planet from the throes of climate change into which mankind have cornered itself. This is positive for the Pacific because it shows their efforts as climate leaders is not going unnoticed at the global level and that through continued positive action and intent, SIDS can further their influence and begin to create the sustainable world that has been strived for over the past decades. 


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