By Pacific Guardians
The decision last Saturday by the United States of America and China to ratify the Paris climate agreement has been hailed by the international community as, “The moment we finally decided to save our planet <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/03/chinas-parliament-ratifies-paris-climate-change-agreement-ahead/>”.
For Pacific island leaders who met, and urged, US President Barack Obama to ratify the Paris Agreement just three days before, at the 10th Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders meeting in Hawaii, it brought relief and joy.
They also knew that the Polynesian countries played a major role in the US position.
American Samoa’s Governor Lolo Moliga told Pacific Guardians he is very pleased that the United States of America is taking the lead in the global fight against climate change by walking the talk.
“The Pacific depends on the world’s ratification of the Paris Agreement to urgently tackle the challenges of climate change that are already impacting our islands. For the free world, it needs America’s leadership at such moments and I’m very pleased that once again, America and President Obama are providing that leadership” he stated.
Tuvalu’s High Commissioner to New Zealand, HE Samuelu Laloniu agreed.
“The ratification by the US and China is great news because without the commitment of the two biggest polluters we have little hope of the Paris agreement having the power of law,” his Excellency told Pacific Guardians.
“We need the Paris Agreement to come into force now and its implementation to progress speedily because for Tuvalu and low lying atolls, we are already suffering from climate and sea level rise. Living with fear and uncertainty on a daily basis is not our normal way of life nor should it be anybody’s.”
For Governor Lolo, President Obama’s support for the Pacific was expected as early in his first term, Obama billed himself as “America’s first Pacific president.”
And that billing, close to the end of his presidency, has proved to be highly accurate with Obama sharing with Pacific leaders on Wednesday his detailed knowledge on the gravity the climate change issue poses Pacific countries saying <http://www.asamnews.com/2016/09/03/obama-cites-impact-of-climate-change-on-pacific-nations-expands-largest-marine-monument/>, “Rising temperatures and sea levels pose an existential threat to your countries.
“Crops are withering in the Marshall Islands. Kiribati bought land in another country because theirs may someday be submerged. High seas forced villagers from their homes in Fiji.”
President Obama also told a group of conservationists at the same Honolulu meeting, “Few people understand, I think, the stakes better than our Pacific Island leaders, because they’re seeing already the impact.”
He promised US help to facilitate resources for countries which need help preparing for the impacts of climate change. To this end, he announced over US$30 million in new funding to try to bolster Pacific Island countries’ defences against climate change.
The US is also to send US$8 million to a World Bank trust fund that supports a disaster and climate insurance facility for Pacific islands.
Governor Lolo said President Obama and other world leaders’ awareness of the Pacific’s vulnerable situation did not happen overnight. It involved a lot of hard work and a constant voice on the global stage especially by Polynesian countries and territories through the Polynesian Leaders Group (PLG) he said.
“I’m happy so far with American Samoa’s involvement, in collaboration with its Polynesian Partners and fellow stewards of the Pacific Ocean. Especially in terms of raising awareness over the proliferated degradation of our oceans and in vociferously advocating for the fashioning of strategies that will strike the needed balance between economic development, conservation, and preservation demands.”
Governor Lolo said the PLG’s influence on the global climate negotiations is significant.
It was their ‘Taputapuatea Declaration on Climate Change <http://pacificguardians.org/blog/2015/07/23/tokelaus-climate-pleas-heard-through-polynesian-leaders-climate-threat-pact/.html>’ that became the foundation from which the 1.5C measure was driven, and forced a realignment of the Paris Agreement ambition.
“The 1.5C degree goal became a reality because it was pushed over the line by the US and the Coalition of High Ambition that was chaired by the Marshall Islands. How that happened in the first place came through the concerns raised and articulated by PLG members in our ‘Taputapuatea Declaration on Climate Change <http://pacificguardians.org/blog/2015/07/23/tokelaus-climate-pleas-heard-through-polynesian-leaders-climate-threat-pact/.html>’.
“We are now building on that momentum by articulating our group’s concerns over the damaging effects of Climate Change on our island states’ physical landscape through our ‘Te Moana o Hiva, Declaration on the Ocean <http://pacificguardians.org/blog/2016/07/07/tokelaus-chairmanship-on-oceans-declaration-augurs-well-for-polynesian-leaders-summit-in-september/.html>’ signed on 28 June 2016 in French Polynesia.”
The Paris Agreement contains what many scientists, policymakers and environmental stakeholders say is humanity’s last hope to save the world. It is built around a basic global framework to coax the world away from fossil-fuel dependence and thereby steer the climate system away from irreversible damage resulting from man-made activities that released and continue to release greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere since the1800s.
For the Paris Agreement to become a legally binding international treaty, it needs to meet a double threshold: (i) at least 55 countries, which (ii) between them produce 55 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions to ratify it.
Everyone knew for that to become reality, the top-two GHG emitters, the US and China who together produce 40 per cent of the world’s emissions, need to ratify. And that is because without them, the agreement’s implementation framework of a fossil-fuel free pathway will simply not work without either of them on board.
Which is why the actions of Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping handing over their instruments of ratification to United Nations head, Ban Ki Moon in China on Saturday was hailed as the “moment we finally decided to save our planet”.
Before the China/US announcement, the 23 nations (including 7 Pacific islands) that had so far ratified the agreement <http://climateanalytics.org/hot-topics/ratification-tracker.html> accounted for just over 1 per cent of global emissions.
And with the China/US announcement made while heads of state from the world’s Group of 20 biggest economies, or G20, arrived for a summit in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, there is an expectation that other large GHG emitters, and parties to the climate convention will now ratify the Paris Agreement and get it over the double threshold.
For American Samoa and other members of PLG holding their annual summit this week in Pohnepei, FSM, they can take a brief moment to reflect on the significance of their contribution to saving their region and future generation.
But only for a moment as the real work now starts to urge the US Government and other world powers to prioritise support for the implementation of key commitments and obligations under the Paris Agreement.
“In that regard, we also seek their support to facilitate simplified access to climate finance for the Pacific islands region, through the Green Climate Fund Board, and other climate finance entities,” concluded Governor Lolo.