UN climate change negotiations: The role and influence of the Alliance of Small Island States (report)

The Pacific Institute and Climate Change Institute at the ANU were privileged to host a public lecture on 19 February by Her Excellency Ms Marlene Inemwin Moses (pictured left), Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of Nauru to the United Nations and Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AoSIS). Ambassador Moses was welcomed to the ANU by Assoc. Prof. Colin Filer, Co-Convenor of the ANU’s Pacific Institute and by Mr Gregory Andrews, Assistant Secretary, Finance, Forests and Development Branch, International Division of the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. The event was the first public lecture to be held in the new Barton Theatre at the ANU.

Ambassador Moses began with a brief history of AoSIS (founded 1990) and a description of the central role of AoSIS in UN climate change negotiations, making special mention of the fact that “the first UN proposal calling for a multilateral approach to tackling the dilemma, what would eventually become the Kyoto Protocol, was drafted by Nauru and submitted [by AoSIS] under the chairmanship of Trinidad and Tobago in 1994.” She then proceeded to elaborate on the controversial new climate change initiative supported by AoSIS – the Loss and Damage provisions – put on the agenda at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC) in Doha in November last year.

Ambassador Moses presented an eloquent and impassioned case for the need to include loss and damage provisions in the ongoing climate change negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC). In her presentation, she detailed AoSIS’s three-part plan:

  • “The first component recognizes that managing climate impacts demands acquiring baseline historical information about weather hazards and quantified assessments of a variety of new risks. The data should be used to guide the development and implementation of country-specific measures that reduce exposure to climate impacts in the first place.
  • The second part resembles insurance systems commonly found in the developed world and would cover countries for costs associated with sudden climate impacts, such as tropical storms, hurricanes, floods, and droughts. This is particularly relevant for small islands because our populations tend to be concentrated in highly vulnerable coastal zones. What’s more, the elevated risks we face often make the cost of insurance premiums prohibitive, if coverage is available at all.
  • Finally, the plan calls for the creation of an international solidarity fund that would compensate countries for economic and non-economic losses stemming from slow-onset climate impacts, such as sea-level rise, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, saltwater intrusion and desertification. This could include lost revenue to the tourism and fishing industries, cultural impacts, and, in the worse case, the cost of relocation should islands become uninhabitable.”

Ambassador Moses was emphatic about the need for all nations to engage on the issue of dangerous climate change, noting that for some Pacific countries it was not merely a concern, or a challenge for development, but an existential threat to communities, their lands, and their cultures. She made special mention of Kiribati and Tuvalu, which face the paradoxical threat of a lack of water (through sustained drought) and rising sea-levels. Yet while the threat of dangerous climate change is profound in the Pacific, Moses noted that this problem is shared by many states and gave poignant examples of recent climate-related disasters around the world. This, she said, is the reason the 40 nations of the Alliance of Small Island States are united with the Least Developed Countries (LDC), the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) and the G77/China in their call for the inclusion of Loss and Damages provisions in the UNFCCC.

On the key question of the efficacy of climate change negotiations to date, Ambassador Moses was similarly resolute. She observed that “perhaps purposefully, the climate negotiations have become very much divorced from the decision-makers in capitals around the world who at the end of the day have to choose to solve this problem or not.” She also noted that in scientific and policy arenas and in the negotiations themselves, “complexity is too often used to disguise a lack of progress.” She expressed her profound concern that “fossil fuel interests hold undue influence in the capitals of the world” and belief that climate change is a “global problem that needs a global solution provided by global leaders….” stating that “if they believe it is a crisis, they need to go in to crisis mode. When there was a financial crisis, they moved into crisis mode – Well, my goodness, this is a crisis. That’s the way I feel about this situation… There has to be a revolution in the Climate Change Convention if we really want to make a difference.” On this issue, she did express optimism at recent comments by President Obama about climate change and her opinion that “we are closer to real action on climate from the United States than ever before.”

Photo: Ambassador Moses responding to a question in the Q&A session.

In a wide-ranging question and answer session that lasted half an hour, Ambassador Moses addressed some of the central issues related to the Loss and Damages provisions put forward at Doha. She also discussed the recent successes of Nauru (in its role as Chair of the Pacific Island States) at the recent Rio+20 Conference, where it helped ensure that the “blue economy”, climate change and key interests of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) were written into the final conference document, The Future We Want (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 66/288).

In conclusion, Ambassador Moses again stressed the need for greater recognition of the fundamental link between climate change and sustainable development – that states could not hope to meet their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) or other aspirations when faced with threats posed to their very survival by climate change. “It was the Pacific island states that took the issue of climate change to the Security Council. We were told it could not be discussed there… but the Pacific was adamant and said it was an existential threat and that it had to be discussed there.” Although Nauru currently Chairs AoSIS, Moses also emphasised the need for climate change to be discussed widely in diverse fora and her belief that it was critically important such conversations not remain the preserve of the UNFCCC. This point resonated with the invitation she extended at the start of her lecture to all Pacific island students in the room, “to elevate our region’s engagement with the international community” and her hope that “our conversation today helps encourage you to become more involved in public service — whether at home or abroad.”

Ambassador Moses visit to Australia was sponsored by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. A copy of the paper she presented at the ANU is available through the AoSIS website.

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