by David Sheppard, Adjunct Senior Fellow, University of the South Pacific and former SPREP Director General

The world’s latest gathering to tackle climate change is underway – with the task of following up last years’ landmark Paris Agreement to limit the effects of climate change.

This Agreement was adopted at the UN climate conference in December 2015 in Paris, France. At least 55 Parties accounting for at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions, were required to ratify it before it could enter into force.


On 5 October 2016, the threshold for entry into force of the Paris Agreement was achieved. The Treaty entered into force on 4 November 2016.

The speed at which countries ratified the Paris Agreement, (109 Treaty Parties, out of 197), is far quicker than any other international agreement – is a powerful statement about the global importance of urgent action to combat climate change. In our inter-connected world it also underlines the importance of nations working cooperatively to meet the many challenges of climate change.

Pacific island nations are in Marrakesh in force. This region contributes less than 0.03% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, yet is the first to feel the impacts of climate change – they are on the frontline. As Pacific islanders watch their homes being battered by waves, possessions washed out to sea or witness their root crops dying from salt water inundation the general feeling is one of injustice and that they are paying for damage others have brought about.

This region has more than 33,000 islands and is home to a diverse range of peoples whose lifestyles have adapted to their environment over millennia. Climate change represents a new and existential threat to the Pacific, a region with four of the six lowest countries and territories on Earth – Tuvalu, Kiribati, Republic of the Marshall Islands and Tokelau – with the highest point in each between 3 to 4 metres.

At the current rate of global warming whole populations, communities and their families will continue to feel the impacts of climate change upon their livelihoods, food sources, and their way of life. The current rate of greenhouse gas emissions spells potential catastrophe for the small island countries of the Pacific.

For the Pacific island region, climate change is a matter of survival. Pacific leaders were instrumental in the development of the Paris Agreement and are now calling for rapid and effective actions by all countries to ensure that the rhetoric can move to reality, to dramatically reduce carbon emissions.

Statements by Pacific delegations to Marrakesh have emphasised the devastating impact of climate change on Pacific island countries and that emissions reduction obligations in the Paris Agreement are still inadequate to prevent a global temperature stabilisation level at or above 1.5 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels.

.Negotiators at Marrakech are now actively developing the implementation details of the Paris Agreement. The pace has quickened this week with the arrival of Heads of Government, Ministers and Senior Officials.

However, the election of Donald Trump, a stated climate denier, announcing US withdrawal from the Climate Convention, has the meeting abuzz with discussions regarding implications for the world’s climate. The hard anti-climate talk may soften after the new President is inaugurated, however current indications are of concern.

His statements represent a dramatic turnaround from years of global cooperation, particularly between China and the US on climate change which led to their joint statement on climate change in November 2014, which provided major momentum leading to the Paris Agreement.

What will happen next is an open question, under Article 28 of the Paris Agreement it would take a total of four years for any formal withdrawal by the United States to take effect: 4 years is also the term of the US Presidency.

Meanwhile, momentum towards renewable energy has accelerated markedly: in the US, and elsewhere, businesses are realizing that reducing emissions is good for the economy, as well as the environment. It is in the interest of all countries, including the US, to build on this momentum, despite the changing political landscape.

Pacific island countries are doing their share to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change – many Pacific countries have committed to ambitious renewable energy targets, with the island of Tokelau already achieving a 100% target. Pacific countries have established some of the world’s largest marine protected areas to safeguard our planet.

One key issue is to ensure that the $100 billion, pledged by developed countries, is provided in the run up to 2020 support a world-wide climate transformation. This is of particular importance for Pacific islands countries as they seek to adapt to the many-fold impacts of climate change.

At the Marrakesh Climate Convention Meeting, world leaders will be discussing and negotiating more than words on paper. The survival of the Pacific islands is at stake and all countries in Marrakesh must act with responsibility and humanity. SOURCE: HUFFINGTON POST/PACNEWS [/restrict]