October 26, 1999 Pacific Delegations Report from the South Pacific

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Environmental Programme (SPREP), Apia, Samoa by Jan Sinclair.

Pacific Island delegates were prominent in today’s Climate Convention negotiations, speaking out frequently and supporting each other as the plenary meeting of 175 countries discussed issues at the core of small island states’ concerns.


The particular needs of the most vulnerable countries were discussed first. An intervention by Saudi Arabia sparked a series of interventions by small island states and African nations. The Climate Convention Article 4.8, which lists the countries most vulnerable to climate change, puts small island states at the top of the list. However, this list also includes countries whose economies are highly dependent on income generated from the production, processing and export of fossil fuels.

During Saudi Arabia’s address to the plenary meeting, its delegate quoted an economic study which found that OPEC countries stood to lose US$ 63 billion annually as countries implemented their Climate Convention commitments. For his country, this meant a loss of 3 per cent of its GDP, he said.

This prompted Samoa to ask how such studies would count the value and compensation for the coffins that Hurricane Floyd took out of burial grounds in the northern Bahamas a few weeks ago, and how you would compensate for the loss of islands and communities.

Samoa also addressed Saudi Arabia’s call for the Conference to move as rapidly on compensating fossil fuel producers for their economic losses as on making provisions to help the countries most vulnerable to climate change. Samoa said the fact and the irony was that the longer some countries held out for such a package, the more they delayed action, and the greater the risks became, to the group of small island states and to developing countries as a whole. The risks to the global community were even greater. He urged specific actions to allow Parties to the Convention to determine more accurately how developing countries in real need could be best assisted, especially least developed countries and the most vulnerable countries.

Jamaica supported this approach, as did Uganda, which said the issue was not one of guarding economies, but rather of guarding peoples’ very existence.

Kiribati told the conference that it would be a disaster for small island states if the world waited to work out how to compensate fossil fuel producers for their economic losses before it took action on helping the countries most vulnerable to climate change. It said there was an urgent need now for the world to provide these countries with assistance to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Kiribati’s delegate said the Climate Convention made provision for protection of the functioning of ecosystems, to allow them to adapt. Some ecosystems in some countries were already unable to adapt, he said. He said it was not possible to rely on absolute science when considering the adverse impacts of climate change, and Parties to the Convention should not insist on scientific proof before beginning assistance with adaptation to climate change. They should apply the precautionary principle because that approach was needed now.

Vanuatu agreed, saying the people of small island states did not have the luxury of time on their side. "To us these changes due to climate and adverse effects threaten our very existence and survival," Vanuatu’s delegate said. He said there needed, as soon as possible, to be actions that would address the needs and special situations of least developed countries, in terms of funding and transfer of technology, and called on the Conference of Parties to pay special attention to vulnerable small island states and take immediate steps on a case-by-case basis.

Mauritius supported these speakers, calling for the countries of the world to act now to help those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Papua New Guinea spoke also, saying that the specific needs of the least developed countries were very real and it was not possible to pretend these needs did not exist. Its delegate said the potential impacts of climate change were possibly being felt more in the Pacific Islands region than anywhere else. "Even as we argue over how the Convention should be implemented, changes are occurring in the Pacific region." He said he joined other colleagues from the Pacific region, including Australia and New Zealand, and other countries from the African, Caribbean and Indian Ocean regions, in urging action to be taken to advance the implementation of the Convention articles dealing with assistance to those countries most vulnerable to climate change.

Capacity building

Pacific Island countries were also vocal when the plenary meeting discussed capacity building. Acknowledgement of the need to build the capacity of developing countries to plan for climate change is scattered throughout the Climate Convention and its Kyoto Protocol. A G77 and China (developing countries) report pulled together the various areas where developing countries would need assistance in capacity building.

A majority of speakers, from both developed and developing countries, said any capacity building must respond to the special needs and special circumstances of developing countries.

The Federated States of Micronesia, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, said capacity building had to be integrated, instead of being spread through many sections of the Climate Convention. He said the Federated States of Micronesia were among the countries most threatened by the impacts of climate change, particularly accelerated sea-level rise. Its delegate said education and skills levels in the FSM were generally low, especially, among many areas, in the scientific and technical fields. However, he invited delegates to inspect his country’s National Communication – the report on greenhouse gas emissions, possible emission reduction strategies, vulnerability and adaptation options required as part of each country’s Climate Convention commitments. The compilation of that report was capacity building in action, he said.

Niue said capacity building underpinned implementation of the Climate Convention, and noted that human resource development was a widespread problem in most developing countries. Its delegate said capacity building was not confined solely to training and awareness raising, but also entailed institutional strengthening and enhancing countries’ ability, in the medium to long term, to meet its human resource development requirements. He said capacity building did not always have to involve building of new structures or institutions, and that all countries had existing setups, albeit at various degrees of sophistication, in terms of national and regional institutions which should be utilized to get better value for money.

He said building a country’s capacity to train people in new areas, particularly climate change issues, was a luxury that was way down the list of priorities for developing country policymakers. He called for the necessary resources to allow his country and others to target specific areas such as climate change.

The Cook Islands told the conference that one of the key elements in capacity building was the need for the Secretariats of the various conventions both at the international and regional levels to make sure that capacity building initiatives at the national level were undertaken in a manner which was complementary and fully coordinated, thus taking into account developing countries’ limited and overworked human resources.

"At the practical level, officials from my country spend more time in the air traveling to an increasing number of meetings, conferences and workshops, and in the process, perfecting our map-reading skills in Heathrow and Los Angeles airports and leaving little time to implement the strategies required nationally to assist us in achieving sustainable development," she said.

"We are told to priorities but we are also told by the many international and regional agencies that their issues and concerns are priorities for us, leaving us in an unenviable position of either not doing anything on their issues and being left behind in the process of influencing decision making which could impact on us, or staying at home and not doing anything."

The Cook Islands requested that the international and regional agencies and donor countries consider the very limited capacity of small island states, and integrate their strategies of assisting with capacity building.

St Lucia supported his colleagues from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and from the G77 and China, noting the agreement among delegates that capacity building was needed, that it must be a continuous process, and that it should take into account the needs of developing countries.

The Marshall Islands raised concerns that capacity building should be driven by the needs of the developing countries.

Activities Implemented Jointly

The Climate Convention provides for developed countries to take part in a pilot scheme, with developed countries helping developing countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Tuvalu spoke on behalf of AOSIS. Its delegate noted the strong skew in geographical distribution of pilot AIJ project away from projects in the South Pacific, other AOSIS countries and Africa. He said this uneven distribution highlighted the importance of developing criteria for equity in the application of the Clean Development Mechanism (a Kyoto Protocol mechanism being developed to assist developing countries with emissions reductions, and vulnerability and adaptation to climate change).

He noted his concern about the preponderance of carbon sequestration projects – ways of absorbing carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere - in the pilot phase activities, saying these did not guarantee real, long term and measurable action to mitigate climate change. The highest percentage of funding for AIJ projects went to carbon sequestration. Generally these projects involve planting trees, which absorb carbon dioxide as they grow.

"This sends some very clear signals about the likely flow of funds for the Clean Development Mechanism, if sinks based activities are included," he said. "We are likely to see a flood of funding for sinks activities and a trickle of funding for technologies associated with renewable energy and energy efficiency."

AIJ activities have been seen by some as a dress rehearsal for activities under the Clean Development Mechanism. Tuvalu opposed moves to link the two. "The review of the AIJ clearly shows that there are a number of inaccuracies, under-reporting and procedural complications that make it inappropriate to have any sort of retrospective crediting, or linking the AIJ with the CDM."

Samoa supported this view, saying it was clear that the geographical distribution of AIJ was extremely limited. There were four AOSIS countries involved in the pilot phase, including two Pacific Island countries. Samoa supported continuation of the pilot phase, and also supported Tuvalu’s concerns about carbon sequestration, and its unwillingness to link AIJ and CDM.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands supported Samoa and Tuvalu, and urged those involved with AIJ projects to promote innovative emissions reduction projects, involving for example renewable energy. "Temporary carbon storage projects, as we should call carbon sequestration, should be discounted in AIJ," the Marshall Islands delegate said.

For further information, contact Jan Sinclair, SPREP, during the Conference at Tel: (49) 228 633 063, Fax: (49) 228 695 357; email: wking22@hotmail.com 

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