The climate summit COP26 in Glasgow earlier this month was seen as failing on several fronts, but has failed no one more than residents of the global south who are most directly impacted by the effects of climate change. Pacific islanders in particular have spoken out about the injustices that the weak commitments at COP will cause to them.
The summit was meant to ensure that nations made sufficient commitments to keep global warming below 1.5C by 2050, however the pledges made by countries at the summit are estimated to lead to a 2.4C increase – far above the recommended amount. Speaking to Al Jazeera, Satyendra Prasad, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations in New York said that “Glasgow missed the 1.5 degrees goal. It was the Pacific’s expectation that this would be firmly and irreversibly secured in Glasgow.
“We are now dependent on large emitters to offer deeper emissions cuts. But the second part of the equation is more important. These countries have fewer and fewer years left in which to achieve the cuts before 1.5 degrees is lost permanently.”
Prasad also spoke of the 1.5C limit and the failure to respect agreements to stick to it. “To anyone in the world who is still listening to the Pacific, let me remind them that 1.5 is the last possible compromise that the Pacific can offer the world,” Prasad said. “Beyond that, you are asking their leaders to sign away the right to exist as countries on our shared planet. To lose 1.5 is a declaration of war on Pacific Governments, it is a declaration of war on our communities and on our peoples. It is that simple – period.”
Three months before COP26, leaders from the Pacific islands had attended a preliminary Pacific-UK High Level Climate Dialogue with Alok Sharma in order to discuss and establish the needs of the islands. They expressed that the mid-century target of 2050 was too distant – and that 1.5C had to be reached by 2025 in order to protect their futures. They also drew attention to the unfulfilled promise from wealthier nations made in 2009 to pledge $100 billion per year to climate vulnerable countries for climate mitigation and adaptation.
“The basic fact is that the rich world failed to secure $100bn for 2020. We have welcomed the commitment to repackage the commitment over the next five years with $100bn to be delivered by 2023… Fiji has proposed with considerable support that the post-2025 package should have $750bn as a floor, and that small states on the front lines should have a dedicated financing window of 10 percent of that. Fiji has also said that the largest proportion of climate financing for small states on front lines should be in the form of grants, not loans,” Prasad said.
Tanya Afu, a climate activist in the Solomon Islands, also addressed the failure to provide funding, noting that “loss and damage are life and death in the Pacific region and the political will of the global leaders is required to support Pacific Island countries because they are already losing everything because of the devastating impacts of climate change. The failure of the global leaders to address this key area is very disappointing and unsatisfactory”.
Although the Pacific islands area has only contributed roughly 0.03% to global greenhouse gas emissions, its residents are being forced to deal with the brunt of the effects of climate change – effects that have been caused by wealthier nations. Effects include rising sea levels, cyclones, tidal surges, and king tides, which result in daily disruptions to islanders’ lives.
Extreme weather caused by climate change is also affecting their access to food and fresh water, and ocean acidification is set to devastate the fishing trade that many who live on the islands depend upon as a vital industry.
Kisolel Posanau, Climate Research Officer at PNG (Papua New Guinea)’s National Weather Service in Port Moresby also highlighted the health risks caused by extreme weather conditions, saying: “I work with climate data every day and see this trend. Our wet season and dry season don’t fall on the normal transition months any more, and there have also been high cases of dengue fever, malaria, viral infections and even heat rash.”
A few meaningful commitments were made at the climate summit, but the deal failed to sufficiently tackle fossil fuels – with coal being “phased down” rather than “phased out”. Ashwini Prabha-Leopold, Board Chair of the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network told Al Jazeera that this was not acceptable.
“After 30 years, governments finally had the guts to talk openly about the problem of fossil fuel dependence at COP26, but failed to encode a bold solution in their final outcomes. Future COPS will have to build on the small steps taken in the Glasgow agreements and go beyond tepid language that ultimately serves fossil fuel interests,” Prabha-Leopold said.
World leaders will meet again in Egypt next year, when they are expected to readdress the issues they should have tackled at this year’s summit. In relation to this year’s summit, Prasad concluded: “Did the world secure a pathway to the end of the age of fossil fuels? No. Did the world secure intense and concentrated climate actions within this decade on the scale that is needed? No…. There is hope, however, stretched that the world can secure 1.5 degrees by the time its leaders meet in Egypt.”