Climate change in the Pacific

climate-changePeter Woolcott

The 22nd Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP22) is underway in Marrakesh, Morocco (7-18 November 2016).  I was Ambassador for the Environment last year which included responsibility for climate change. It was a privilege to have been closely engaged in the negotiations that led to the Paris Agreement.

Australia has sought over successive governments to make a major contribution to the climate change agenda. This has been backed by deep and broad scientific and technical expertise in emissions reduction, climate science and adaptation, and our 2030 commitments.

A year on from Paris, consensus in the UNFCCC is that this year has been one of the more positive. The Paris Agreement is being described as a genuine turning point, where the world decided to act. Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement four years early is a big outcome. And we are seeing a constructive approach in the UNFCCC as a consequence.

With the Paris Agreement in place, focus is shifting from political negotiations to implementation of the 120-odd action items arising from the Agreement and to countries getting on with implementing their commitments.

The Pacific Island Countries played a significant role in the negotiations of the Paris Agreement and they continue to do so at COP22. For many of them the issue is existential.

At the September 2016 Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in Pohnpei, PIF Leaders collectively endorsed a new Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific (FRDP) to take us through to 2030. This marked an important development towards a collective approach in tackling climate change in our region. The impact of climate change in the Pacific is reflected primarily in global warming, sea level rise and ocean acidification. These factors combine with issues such as erosion and increased population density to present a real risk to the habitats, lifestyles and social and economic development prospects of Pacific Island communities.

Australia is committed to working with New Zealand and our Pacific island partners to support a range of climate-related activities in the Pacific that will build resilience to the impacts of climate change. In Pohnpei, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a package of climate change and resilience support to the Pacific of AUD 300 million over four years. This Australia-Pacific Climate Change Action initiative increases current levels of support by AUD 80 million and reinforces Australia’s long-standing support for the Pacific through our development program. It also complements Australia’s work with the private sector to lift investments in climate change across the Pacific.

Prime Minister Turnbull’s announcement followed Australia’s commitment at the Paris climate change talks in 2015 to invest AUD 1 billion globally over five years on climate change and disaster risk management for developing countries, and Australia’s contribution of AUD 200 million over four years to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

Australia has taken a very active role in advancing the work of the GCF as Co-Chair. Moreover, I was delighted to see that Howard Bamsey, a fellow former Australian Ambassador for the Environment and experienced climate change negotiator, has just been appointed as Executive Director of the Green Climate Fund Secretariat. He will make a real impact. So we will continue to use our influence and position to advocate for investment to flow to our Pacific neighbours and to promote effective engagement with the private sector.

Australia also recognises the need to ensure that our aid investment is sustainable and not vulnerable to future climate risks. In particular, we understand that the provision of reliable climate and oceans information is critical for all Pacific Island countries, given high levels of reliance on natural resources for survival as well as economic and social development.

This is why Australia’s investment in climate science and data services is an important contribution to strengthen planning and hazards management in the Pacific. Australia is also providing AUD 33 million in funding over five years to the Climate and Ocean Support Program, which helps fourteen Pacific national meteorological services make seasonal forecasts, as well as use climate science to assist and support planning in the agriculture, water, health and security sectors.

It is now about implementation and action. The emphasis on COP22 as being a COP of action is absolutely right and the emphasis on action in developing a collective approach to tackling climate change in the Pacific is also absolutely right.

We have the best chance to address climate change in the Pacific by working together as a region. That’s what Australia is committed to do.

Peter Woolcott is the Australian High Commissioner to New Zealand and Australia’s former Ambassador for the Environment. You can read his full biography here.

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