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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Pacific Island nations lead in ratification of Paris Agreement on climate change

The Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting has concluded in Pohnpei in the Marshall Islands. A major focus of this meeting was action on climate change following Paris and COP21.

The Statement following 47th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting was released by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, The Honorable John Silk:

“Today’s communique is a clarion call to action that even with the Paris Agreement, there remains a lot of work to do to guarantee there will still be 16 seats at the Pacific Islands Forum in a hundred years from now.”

“The Pacific is strongest when we come together and fight as one. Along with our big brothers and sisters in Australia and New Zealand, we have declared that we will continue to push for an ambitious amendment to the Montreal Protocol in October, and to see ambitious climate action across all sectors. This must include reducing aviation and maritime emissions in line with the 1.5°C temperature target we all agreed in Paris.”

“I want to particularly thank President Christian for the Federated States of Micronesia’s tireless leadership in the Montreal Protocol negotiations, beginning with their first submission in 2009. If we succeed in Kigali, it will be one of the best examples of island leadership that we have ever seen and help us avoid up to half a degree of warming – the biggest chunk yet off the ambition gap.”

The Pacific Islands Forum includes Australia, the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

In the lead up to COP22 in Marrakech there are two important international meetings where further global climate action can be taken: The Montreal Protocol and the the International Civil Aviation Agency (ICAO) triennial congress.

The Montreal Protocol is due to meet in Kigali, Rwanda on 9th October. A Reduction and phaseout of HFC refrigerant gases is being proposed under the Montreal Protocol. These are very strong greenhouse gases. If HFCs can be eliminated, it can provide up to 0.5C less warming to 2100. But boosting action under the Montreal Protocol should not be seen as a substitute for reducing carbon dioxide emissions in national climate action plans (INDCs)

The ICAO congress will consider a proposal for a market based measure to cap aviation emissions at 2020 levels. According to a Carbon Brief Analysis: Aviation could consume a quarter of 1.5C carbon budget by 2050. The problem is more complicated as aircraft emit other gases and aerosols that change the composition of the atmosphere, as well as producing “contrails” which affect the cloudiness of the sky and how much solar radiation reaches the surface of the Earth. These other impacts are not well understood and not factored in to the ICAO approach.

The market based measure scheme being proposed is basicly a carbon offset scheme. It is proposed to be voluntary in the first 6 years, after which it becomes mandatory with exemptions for Least Developed Countries. The proposal has already been criticised by NGOs for being insufficient and lacking environmental safeguards.

Before the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting, leaders from Smaller Island states met, with the President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Her Excellency Dr. Hilda C. Heine, releasing a statement. This forum includes the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Tuvalu, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The cabinet of the Marshall Islands decided to join ICAO’s new global market-based measure for aviation emissions, with other Pacific Island nations likely to follow. The Pacific is also the first region in the world to complete its ratification of the Paris Agreement.

“Today some of the smallest and most vulnerable countries on the planet have said loud and clear that even with the Paris Agreement in-hand, the fight against climate change is as urgent as ever before.” said Dr Heine.

“Once again, we have committed to lead the world and pursue ambitious action to reduce emissions, including through phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, curbing greenhouse gases from aviation and shipping, and raising the ambition of all countries by 2020.” stated Dr Heine.

The true impact of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting and the Smaller Island states forum is in the continued symbolic leadership for the rest of the world. It was Tony De Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, that put together the Coalition of High Ambition to break the usual bargaining consensus at UNFCCC COP21. He is one of the heroes of the Paris Agreement. The pacific nations are now leading the ratification process for this climate treaty, showing the rest of us how it can be done.

Many Island nations will not survive the sea level rise of a 2C and above world. Indeed, a 1.5C world would also be very perilous. But they are showing us, they are not drowning, they are fighting.

Maybe the rest of the world needs to lift our game and fight too: for no new coal mines and a rapid phaseout of coal, a ban on fracking and unconventional gas extraction, a target of 100 per cent renewables and a just and rapid transition to a zero carbon economy. It can be done, it must be done.

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