Palau’s president goaded the world’s most powerful nations on their broken climate promises, suggesting they “might as well bomb our islands instead of making us suffer.”

Tuvalu foreign affairs minister Simon Kofe delivered a virtual speech standing knee deep in waters that had claimed his country’s coastline.

And young Pacific leaders made rallying cries, calling for action following years of promises and pledges over climate change.

Pacific delegations were enthusiastic that COP26, the United Nations Climate Conference, would be at the frontlines of climate change. But the Glasgow Climate Agreement has fallen short of addressing the region’s goals with diluted language forced by the biggest carbon emitters, Pacific leaders said.

The Pacific’s unified goals focused on climate finance — to pay for future adaption measures and a fund for loss and damages that have already occurred — and keeping global commitments to warming the climate to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. The conference was also supposed to finalize the Paris rulebook, the rules and procedures to implement the 2015 Paris agreement.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, speaking here at the Alliance of Small Island States Summit 2021, said one of the successes of COP26 was retaining a goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius of global temperature rise. YouTube/AOSIS Media

Just three Pacific leaders were able to attend the conference, so most national delegations consisted of diplomats and delegates from foreign postings.

The Federated States of Micronesia’s delegation was led by Jeem Lippwe, the country’s permanent representative to the UN in New York. In an email, he said that while the region’s call to “keep 1.5 alive” was heeded, many issues remained.

Loss And Damage

Pacific island states are inordinately affected by climate change as their small islands face sea level rise and several other issues, such as warmer waters, that affect their people’s livelihoods. So recouping irreversible loss and damages was high on the list of priorities.

But COP26 failed to establish a fund, which left them “deeply disappointed” as they were already experiencing harm, said Lippwe, delegation leader for FSM.

The idea of reparations for loss and damage to the Pacific nations has been around since the Paris climate conference in 2015 but the countries with the greatest greenhouse gas emissions have been reluctant to endorse the idea. The COP26 decided to postpone the issue until next year.

Fishing industries are integral to Pacific economies but fish behavior is being influenced by climate change. Courtesy: Jojo Kramer

Lippwe said shelving the loss and damage proposal was a disrespectful dismissal of island nations’ realities and that “we will not let this matter go.”

Not long before COP26, The World Bank released a study detailing climate change scenarios for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, revealing that a sea level rise of one meter would compromise 37% of the country’s buildings and subject the atoll nation to inundation during seasonal hurricanes and storms.

Despite the disappointments, RMI climate envoy Tina Stege said there was real progress.

“We must not discount the crucial wins covered in this package,” Stege tweeted, referring to RMI’s work in doubling climate financing and working towards accelerating individual country’s contributions to global climate goals.

Climate Finance

During an Alliance of Small Island States summit in September, and at several other meetings during the UN General Assembly, Pacific nations made it clear that they needed more money to adapt to climate change.

While $100 billion a year in financing was first promised in 2009 at COP15 and reaffirmed in 2015, developed nations fell short by approximately $20 billion by 2019. At Glasgow, Pacific nations asked for the commitment to be reaffirmed, resulting in a promise of $500 billion from 2021 to 2025 by developed nations.

The UN estimates that developing countries will need between $140 billion and $300 billion annually by 2030, and $280 billion to $500 billion yearly by 2050.

“Finance for adaptation is still not at the scale needed,” Lippwe said.

In light of the past performance of members of the G20, an intergovernmental group of the strongest world economies, Lippwe was not confident they would honor the commitment.

“Much work remains to be done. We will gladly accept being proven wrong in our pessimism,” Lippwe said.

COP26 was a resounding disappointment for many countries and international organizations that sought action alongside the pledges that often come from UN climate conferences. Wikimedia Commons/Dean Calma /IAEA

Moving Forward

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr., alongside U.S. special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry, issued a 90-day challenge calling for participating nations’ major initiatives to be announced at February’s Our Oceania Conference.

Kosi Latu, the executive director of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, an intergovernmental organization working across the region, remains worried about a disconnect between policies and promises.

“We’ve heard these before, time and time again. The problem with these announcements and pledges is that the big countries, big emitters, don’t keep their promises,” Programme executive director Latu said in an interview with Radio New Zealand.

The biggest emitters have never aligned their own policies with their international announcements and pledges, he said.

“I have difficulty accepting that the outcomes of COP26 were successful,” he said, citing China and India’s last-minute watering down of wording around phasing out coal production.

And Latu was not reassured by the powerful big emitters continuing to make pledges of zero net carbon emissions decades in the future — the U.S. and Australia by 2050, China by 2060, India by 2070.

“You’ve got to be kidding, it’s too late. We’ll be under water by then,” Latu said.

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