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The Climate Change Conference (COP 6) at the Hague, Netherlands in November last year (2000) saw the failure of world leaders to agree to concrete steps to combat the threats of climate change. For us in the Pacific, a grim reality was realized. The over-consumptive lifestyle of the rich world was not negotiable – even if it cost us our land, peoples and culture.

(Published in the Pacific News Bulletin, January 2001)

By Patrina Dumaru PCRC Assistant-Director - Environment

The intent of the conference was to finalise the rules of the Kyoto protocol, (the only international agreement for reducing emissions of global warming gases from the industrialised world) drafted by more than 170 countries in 1997 in Japan. The Kyoto protocol contains legally-binding targets for industrialised countries to reduce their emissions of global warming gases 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. This, however, did not come to fruition as countries including the United States, Japan, Australia and Canada (Umbrella Group) chose instead, to manipulate loopholes in the treaty and push for rules that will allow them to increase their pollution levels. Such a stand was made on the argument that they had "too much to lose" in making such a commitment. (Try explaining this to a Tuvaluan or a Ni-Kiribati who has "everything to lose!").

Pacific the worst affected

For years Pacific and other small island states have pleaded to the industrialised world, to take action so that the islands may be saved. Facts and figures considered alarming and unjust towards us clearly was of no significance at this meeting. Although we contribute the least to global greenhouse gas emissions (0.06%), we will be the most vulnerable to the effects of global warming and sea-level rise. Already small islets have been swallowed by the ocean in Tuvalu, Kiribati and only recently in Bougainville. It has been identified that warmer temperatures have led to the bleaching of our main source of survival - coral reefs. Scientists have also predicted an increase in health diseases, loss of coastal infrastructure and soil, droughts and frequency of cyclones.

Pacific governments along with other small island states who made the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) continued to maintain progressive stands on controversial issues at the COP 6. The issue of including carbon sinks and nuclear energy in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) was strongly opposed by the AOSIS group. Key negotiators of the group stayed up late into the night to ensure that deals that would allow industrialised countries to continue (/increase) emission rates through manipulating loopholes were opposed. This was particularly difficult towards the end of the conference when parties were anxious to seal a deal.

NGO Pressure

The negotiations did not go without pressure from environment NGOs and indigenous groups at the conference. As negotiations persisted environmentalists were on their toes keeping a tab on countries that stepped out of line. They were exposed daily through the Climate Action Network (CAN) newsletter "Eco" and were punished with "fossil points" for unprogressive moves via a public display. On the sixth day of the conference, 5,000 people from around the world filled 50,000 sand bags and built a dike around the conference centre sending governments a strong message on the need for permanent reductions of carbon emissions. On the evening of the demonstration, Pacific band Te Vaka staged a concert with the theme "Island Alert". Thousands of people danced to the Pacific drum beats and learnt about a culture at stake.

Indigenous groups pressure

Indigenous groups from around the world were also active at the negotiations opposing the inclusion of carbon sinks under the Clean Development Mechanism, and demanding greater participation in the processes of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). Over 30 indigenous peoples from 24 countries (including reps from Samoa, Fiji, West Papua and Aotearoa) that met in the second Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change called for:

More work needed

While a number of European countries were receptive to the proposition, it was agreed that more pressure needs to be done towards the next climate change talks. PCRC has already started working with Amazon Alliance and other indigenous peoples groups to organise the first international workshop of "Women of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities on Climate Change" in preparation for the next climate talks. There were other ‘sinister’ non-governmental lobbyists presents. Private company representation was present doing you-know-what in full force. The Youth for Nuclear group was a particularly interesting one. The group lobbied for the use of nuclear energy as a means of curbing the effects of climate change, overlooking the environmental threats of disposal of nuclear waste after use.

One thing was clear from the conference – money talks. Rich countries don’t really care whether our islands sink, float or fly. That’s our little problem. As long as their profits are protected - that’s all that matters. They will reduce their pollution when the market trend allows for it. Sea-level rise, environmental refugees, biodiversity loss, land loss, etc. are not good or safe indicators for change. Of course, we can expect adaptation funds from them. After all, it’s a cheaper way of dealing with a problem of their making.

Awareness and Preparation

The fact remains, a 5% reduction in carbon emissions is not sufficient to curb the threats on climate change on us. In 1997 scientists proposed for a 80% reduction. Whether a deal is struck or not in the next climate talks, we must prepare ourselves for this phase of the discussion - adaptation and compensation.

In doing this we need to ask ourselves critical questions. Does the average Pacific Islander know about climate change, its implications, how much it will cost them and what methods of adaptation to use? Do we know of the parties responsible for such implications and the justice systems that will address grievances of victims? If our sisters and brothers from the atoll islands have to leave their vanua because the sea has claimed it, who will take care of them? Again, will all this be our little problem? Although we contribute very little to the carbon emission levels, are we ourselves prepared to lead by example and implement renewable energy initiatives to protect our mother earth?

These are some questions that we will have to keep in mind as a region and prepare for. Our experience as a nuclear paradise for the superpowers is not a pleasant one. Lives were lost and our people are still dying. This legacy is expected to continue for generations to come. Our environment was violated and still remains so. While The US, French and British governments have expressed intentions of nuclear clean-up, its now forty years after the destruction and nothing has been done.

In preparing for this, institutions and groups (both governmental and non-governmental) need to work together in raising the awareness of the public on the issue and what is to come. Governments need to make more concerted efforts into renewable energy initiatives. Preparations and implementation must go ahead for adaptation projects at the national level and countries responsible for climate change must be made to pay for the costs. The human rights of environmental refugees caused by climate change are to be explored and campaign strategies for justice discussed in preparation of such cases arising. Still recovering from the aftermath of the nuclear bomb we must now prepare ourselves for the climatic Bomb.

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