Climate change could sink Pacific islands. Who will defend him at COP26?



Just days before the start of UN climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, the small delegation to Fiji passed as good news: President Biden did not rule out meeting them.

Fiji’s ambassador to the United Nations, Satyendra Prasad, wrote on Friday: “The meeting is not safe, but has not yet been ruled out.” “Let’s see,” he wrote, hopefully. “These things happen in a day” [of],



For smaller countries like Fiji and other Pacific islands, it has never been more important – or more difficult – to hold personal meetings with the leaders of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nations. Their existence is at stake. These nations face massive environmental challenges, from rising sea levels that can wipe out entire villages and destroy the tourism industry, to the destruction of coral reefs.

In the past five years, Fiji has faced 13 cyclones, three of the most destructive being Category 5. After one of those storms, the country’s GDP, a measure of the goods and services provided, fell by 30%.



An aerial view of Fiji's coral coast.

An aerial view of Fiji’s coral coast. Climate change is posing a long-term threat to the region’s marine environment.

(Reef Explorer Fiji via AFP via Getty Images)

The country will face the looming prospect of relocating scores of coastal communities where life could soon become untenable due to rising sea levels.

“Every two to three months you come across people who have just lost their home and they look at you and they ask you: ‘Still?'” Prasad said. “You think about moments like these in these big international meetings.”



Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, only four Pacific island nations – Fiji, Palau, Papua New Guinea and Tuvalu – will be represented at this year’s global climate summit by their heads of state, leaving the other 11 with smaller teams of delegates Will go and volunteers for non-profit organizations. This has fueled concern that the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and the countries least responsible for carbon emissions due to rising temperatures, are barely considered the most important climate convention ever. 2015 Paris Agreement,

“For the Pacific states, I am quite concerned,” Prasad said. “We’re not big players on the global stage, but it’s been an extraordinarily difficult year.”

As a result of the island countries’ low attendance, the burden of representing those who cannot travel to Scotland will fall largely on leaders who can. Prasad said he expected the four heads of state, including Fiji’s prime minister, to work “nearly 24/7” during the two-week summit, which he described as “the equivalent of a year of Zoom meetings in one day”.

On the agenda for small island nations: pressuring the leaders of wealthy, industrialized countries to devote more money to helping them combat the effects of climate change and the transition to clean sources of energy.

In 2009, the US and other developed nations agreed that by 2020 they would provide $100 billion per year to developing countries. But that promise was never fulfilled. Rich countries have failed to raise more than $80 billion annually. And, in a recent report, diplomats from Canada and Germany announced that they would not be able to meet their target until 2023 – three years late.

The sun sets behind the mountains of Viti Levu Island

The sun sets behind the mountains of Viti Levu Island in Suva, Fiji, May 2000.

(Torsten Blackwood / AFP via Getty Images)

Fiji’s prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, has gone too far in his request for aid. In a speech before the UN General Assembly earlier this year, he called on wealthy countries to increase their financial commitments to at least $750 billion annually in 2025. The limited financing that exists for developing countries is often out of reach due to complex debt. The requirements, he said, should take future aid in the form of grants that do not require struggling countries to take on as much debt.

“I’m tired of appreciating the resilience of our people,” Bainimarama said. “True resilience is defined not only by a nation’s patience but by our access to financial resources.”

Concern that leaders from developing countries would not be able to attend the summit has been growing for months, prompting a coalition of more than 1,500 environmental advocacy groups to call for a call. summit will be delayed Again this year, as it was in 2020. In September, the chairman of the 46-nation group least developed countries, known as the LDC, described Britain’s quarantine requirements and the lack of commercial flights out of the Pacific island nations hampering their ability to participate and make their case personally.

Last week, England announced that it was ending requirements for travelers to quarantine and remove the last seven countries from its “red list” for coronavirus risk. But the decision came too late – small countries without easy access to vaccines and money for travel had already finalized their limited delegations.

“Not having their voice certainly affects representation and inclusivity,” said Tracy Kazumba, a researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development, a London-based think tank.

She said women and people from developing countries are already under-represented among delegates and event organisers, and this imbalance is likely to worsen this year. “These are the voices that really need to be in COP,” she said.

Prasad said the leaders of Pacific island nations participating in the conference will have to speak on behalf of their missing comrades, ideally in as many face-to-face meetings with the leaders of the G-20 countries as possible.

Under normal circumstances it is difficult for small island nations to meet those leaders’ schedules. This often means agreeing to meetings late at night or early in the morning, or on the margins during convention – such as holding heads of state as they are leaving one appointment and moving on to the next.

“Our leaders have to be firm and very outspoken and sometimes quite non-diplomatic in making sure they do what our community and our people want them to do,” Prasad said.

Pacific islands and developing countries have been able to make an impact in the past. In 2015, he fought for and won the language in the Paris climate agreement, forcing world leaders to commit to keeping rising temperatures below 2 °C and, if possible, 1.5 °C.

But since then, most industrialized nations have failed to meet their emissions reduction targets. And a recent UN climate report found that even if countries make the strictest cuts in atmosphere-warming greenhouse gas emissions today, global warming is likely to surpass 1.5 degrees in the next two decades.

The mission of Fiji and other Pacific island nations in Glasgow is clear: keep 1.5 goals alive, Prasad said. “We can’t think of a future above that.”

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