Posted inOpinion / Cook Islands

OPINION: ‘We are the ones with the most to lose if agreements are not reached and firm action is not decided upon’

Let us now wait and see if these developed countries will act on their commitments for carbon reduction and pledges to the GCF, says Cook Islands PM in his statement

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown. Photo: Cook Islands News

You may remember that several columns back I took the opportunity to talk to you all about climate change, its potential impacts here in the Cook Islands, and why it is something we all need to be thinking about, writes Prime Minister Mark Brown.

I also made reference to COP26, this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, currently taking place this week and next in the city of Glasgow, Scotland.

The purpose of this annual conference is to assess the world’s progress in dealing with climate change, and most countries attending are asked to submit new plans to reduce their fossil fuel emissions over the next decade.

This conference also marks the third meeting of the parties to the Paris Agreement, an international treaty that seeks to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and also to pledge support to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a fund set up to assist countries like ours to reduce our carbon footprint and help build resilience against the impacts of climate change.

Unfortunately, due to the restrictions brought about by COVID-19, the Cook Islands, like several other Pacific Island nations, has been unable to send a full-fledged delegation to COP26. Nevertheless, we will make our presence felt.

In my capacity both as leader of the Cook Islands and the nominated Climate Finance Champion of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, I have delivered an address to the COP26 Leaders’ Summit this week via video statement.

While we may not be able to be there in person, it is important that our voice is heard. Our Pacific countries are on the frontline of climate change. We are feeling the effects already, with more severe hurricanes in the region, flooding reaching new heights and prolonged periods of drought.

We are the ones with the most to lose if agreements are not reached and firm action is not decided upon at COP26.

In terms of global carbon emissions, the Pacific region would produce the equivalent of one kata kikau burning in a forest fire. Our emissions are so low that we barely register on the global scale when compared to the fossil fuel use of the vast majority of nations attending COP26 this week. Despite this we are still doing our bit to reduce our carbon footprint by increasing the use of renewable energy across all of our islands.

But right now our focus here at home is and must be on building resilience and adaptation.

Ten years ago we reopened our Avatiu Harbour. Some may forget that part of the project in deepening and concreting the harbour involved us lifting the level of the wharf up by one metre to compensate for the greater severity of storm surge and also to mitigate against sea-level rise. The cost of lifting the harbour was in the region of a few million dollars. Part of that money was provided as a grant to cover that aspect of the project.

Right now we are doing things like building the banks of our streams higher to protect homes that for the first time in our history are being reached by floodwater, or increasing water storage capacity on islands that have never before experienced the levels of drought that we see now. These actions and projects cost money and it is the GCF that we look to for assistance in building this resilience.

Climate financing is all the more important now because not only do we have to build resilience, we now have to do it with a severely COVID-impacted economy. The financing to build resilience into our infrastructure and property needs to be innovative and bold.

This is why at our regional and international meetings I have been pushing for loan amortization rates of 50 to 100 years for climate-related loans, rather than normal bank terms of 10 to 20 years. We need the International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank to recognise climate debt as separate from national debt and treat it as such. We need the establishment of a debt servicing instrument to allow economies to recover from COVID and grow to a stage where debt servicing comes in at sustainable levels.

These are not new statements – we have been making them at previous COP meetings since 2015. Let us now wait and see if these developed countries will act on their commitments for carbon reduction and pledges to the GCF.

In the meantime, we are going ahead with our own resilience plans and projects using our own money. Climate impacts are happening now, so we need to help ourselves now.

This opinion is by Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown, published at Cook Islands News on 2 November 3032, reposted via PACNEWS.

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