Multilateralism has yet again failed the vulnerable climate-frontline island nations of the Pacific. The failure of COP26 to deliver on climate finance and loss and damage demands of the Pacific nations is tantamount to climate genocide. COP26 was supposed to be a ‘crisis COP’, a lifeline for the millions of people living in a permanent state of crisis – dealing with a global pandemic, frequent and more dangerous severe tropical cyclones, and disasters, rising sea levels, water and food insecurity, biodiversity loss, losing their lives, livelihoods, and homes as a result of climate impacts caused by rich polluting countries and corporations. 

The refusal by rich countries like Australia, the U.S, the EU, and the UK to support a funding facility for loss and damage, despite 138 countries calling for it at COP26, is a shocking betrayal to the millions of people suffering from the climate crisis in developing countries, and particularly the most vulnerable here in the Pacific Islands.  The fact that Australia, our nearest developed country neighbour, has been a key barrier to climate action globally, deserves swift and severe rebuke from Pacific governments.  

The Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN), the umbrella body of more than 200 NGOs across the Pacific Islands, expresses its frustration and disappointment on how developed countries have once again demonstrated their coloniality, greed, wilful ignorance and complete lack of solidarity and responsibility to protect those who are disproportionately experiencing the worst impacts of the climate crisis. These developed and rich countries bullied the underrepresented Pacific delegates to dilute the language on fossil fuel phase-out and weaken the outcome on loss and damage, both of which are critical for the survival of Pacific frontline communities. 

Prior to COP26, Pacific civil society developed a comprehensive set of urgent climate policy demands including key outcomes around Fossil Fuels, NDC ambition, Climate Finance, Loss & Damage action, Gender Justice, Human Rights, and Inclusivity.  None of these issues saw satisfactory action by world leaders at COP26, and so Pacific NGOs are mobilizing to take climate justice to other fora outside the UNFCCC, including supporting Vanuatu’s campaign towards the International Court of Justice. 

We are now in the era of climate-induced loss and damage. Incremental progress is not enough. What we need are concrete commitments to fight the climate and ecological emergency. This includes a rapid phase-out of all fossil fuels through a just energy transition and annual revisions of national climate targets in line with the 1.5C goal. Developed countries — Australia, the US, Canada, Norway, and the UK need to act on phasing out all fossil fuels, and immediately halt subsidies, because they can afford to do so. Do not lay the blame on India and China who must also do their part as common but differentiated responsibilities. Historical polluters need to take responsibility and act with urgency to ensure the island nations of the Pacific and all climate frontline Peoples are protected from further climate catastrophes. Loss and damage are already severe and worsening every year.    

Pacific NGOs will not stand by and watch others destroy our present and our future, and we demand urgent action from all Governments, including those in the Pacific.

Reactions from PICAN Members & COP 26 Delegates

Joseph Sikulu, Pacific Managing Director at 350.org

“COP26 has been deemed to be the most exclusionary COP ever, yet we made our voices heard. We, the civil society, together with our negotiators from the Pacific islands and other vulnerable States, held the line inside the negotiations. Fossil fuel lobbies, and the lack of leadership from the historic polluters, are the main reasons why we are not yet seeing the billions we need to adapt to climate change – nor funds needed to pay for what’s lost. It’s an uphill fight. It’s an uphill fight when our negotiators are outnumbered by fossil fuel lobbyists 12 to 1. It’s an uphill fight when the UK government makes it almost impossible and unsafe for civil society to attend the climate talks. But 1.5°C is not optional. It is an absolute necessity, and this horizon should guide every single decision made by every single international institution, country, and local authority.”

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls – Regional Manager, Shifting the Power Coalition

“It is clear that greater investment must be made to ensure a groundswell of localisation. Pacific Island communities have the solutions for what we face, and this means climate financing should include dedicated investment particularly for diverse women and youth to tackle the climate emergency including ensuring their specific needs are met in all relocation plans. Inclusive Localisation can catalyse community action and for greater political accountability to drive locally led green innovation and solutions – “we need to redesign the process from the local level to demonstrate the collective call to reduce fossil and nuclear energy”.

Kim Allen, Civil Society Youth Representative 

“With over 60 percent of the Pacific’s population in the youth bulk, the lives of young people in the Pacific region are at risk to the climate emergency. The lack of urgency by Parties and stakeholders to agree and implement practical climate actions pose an unpredictable future for Pacific Island countries and other Small Island Developing States. Young people in the Pacific are at the forefront of addressing climate change and they need the resources, funding mechanisms and support in the fight against climate change to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”

Noelene Nabulivou – Director, DIVA for Equality, Women Defend Commons Network, Co-lead, GEF Action Coalition – Feminist Action for Climate Justice

“Overall, at COP26 there was not due recognition of gender justice and women’s human rights, universal human rights, intergenerational equity, and free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous and local communities. COP26 outcomes betray Pacific people and the living planet. We are especially angry at actions of climate response laggards including Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the USA, and others. Repeatedly broken promises of $100 billion annual climate finance have again been put off at COP26 and reflect a lack of commitment by those most responsible to repair loss and damage. The Member States must strengthen ocean-based action for climate justice and recognise specific risks and impact of the climate emergency on small-scale fisherwomen and fishermen in coastal frontlines, and the crucial role of all local communities in addressing climate change and biodiversity loss. We work for gender-just, regenerative, and transformative ocean governance based on the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous people and local communities. We reject ‘net zero’ lies and empty promises and affirm pathways that urgently get us to Real Zero by 2030 in developed countries and by 2050 in developing countries. We reject all false solutions, proposed via corporate interests insinuating themselves into multilateral spaces as at COP26. We thank Pacific governments, Indigenous groups, and civil society, AOSIS, LDC and others for leadership and holding red lines in extremely difficult, tiring circumstances. We demand a Loss and Damage Facility at COP27 and will work toward it with 138 Member States and social movements who demanded it at COP26. Anything less condemns us all, especially Pacific peoples. We came out of COP26 more fierce, determined and ready to struggle with others for social, economic, ecological and climate justice.”

Mahendra Kumar, Independent Expert on Climate Change

“The ink has hardly dried on the Glasgow Pact, and we see the Australian Minister of Pacific Affairs, Zed Seselja embark on a visit to Fiji and maybe other Pacific Island countries. We hope that the Pacific countries reinforce and communicate to the Minister their strong views on Australia’s feeble response to the climate challenge facing the small islands. Australia should come up with credible and strong 2030 targets, in their Nationally Determined Contributions to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by end of 2022.  

Going forward, a lot now depends on how Pacific Island Governments respond to Australia’s deft diplomacy. Will they be silenced by the aid carrot and other bilateral deals which are being done behind the scenes or follow up on the statements they all made in Glasgow when accepting the weak outcome? We owe it to our future generations and the world to hold our Forum members to account.” 

Lavetanalagi Seru, Climate Justice Officer, Pacific Islands Climate Action Network

“Two narratives emerged from COP 26, one of that of Pacific Islands and other climate change frontline nations, who served & fought in the interests of humanity and planet, and the other of rich, developed heavy polluting nations who served the interests of fossil fuel lobbyists and companies – betraying not only the original mandate of the Convention (UNFCCC), but also the millions of people across the world who are already experiencing the worst impacts of the climate crisis, and climate-induced loss & damage. Despite a few small wins at COP 26, there is still a lot to be done to bring us to a 1.5 degrees’ pathway that will secure the survival of many island nations here in the Pacific. The Pacific fought hard inside and outside of the negotiations space, and it was disappointing to say the least, that countries like Australia were there to undermine the process, which would have led us to more climate ambitious outcomes. Many return to their island homes and be assured that the fight for climate justice continues.”

Reverend James Bhagwan, General Secretary, Pacific Conference of Churches

“I am deeply disappointed, even though I had kept my expectations low going into COP26 following comments from G7 and G20 pre-COP. But the hard work of negotiators and leaders from our region and other climate-vulnerable countries gave me hope. Despite the little wins on Loss and Damage, climate financing attempts to keep 1.5 alive, and Oceans, this COP has failed many, particularly in the softening on coal and fossil fuel. We need to work harder, together to keep our polluter “vuvale” on notice to keep their commitments from becoming just rhetoric.”

Una Baro, COP26 Advocacy Officer, Pacific Islands Climate Action Network

“The outcomes of COP26 were quite disappointing as we saw a divergence between developed and developing countries, with developing countries putting their own economic interests before that of people, especially those at the frontline of climate change. Fiji, being one of the Pacific islands nations is facing climate change impacts, will now continue the fight for increased climate action with the hopes that developed countries will deliver concrete outcomes on climate financing for loss and damage and on other Pacific climate demands.”

Iemaima Vaai, Ecumenical Enabler, Pacific Conference of Churches 

“This COP has yet again failed our frontline Pacific communities. The outcome of this COP is unjust and shows the outright betrayal towards our people. The weakening of the language on fossil phase-out and lack of support in loss and damage to touch deeply on the unseen wounds of our people shows the gross incompetence of these high emitting countries in caring for the wellbeing of our indigenous and frontline communities. For us, this is life and death and so we will not wait for these world leaders to make changes. We will continue to fight until we get what is owed to us, so we will come back next year stronger than ever, and ready to continue the fight for the future of our people and their legacy.” 

Tanya Afu, COP26 Advocacy Officer, Pacific Islands Climate Action Network

“The failure of COP26 to deliver and address loss and damage and climate finance poses a huge threat to the future of our Pacific, especially the future generations. The Pacific civil societies in the region have fought hard to raise the voice of Pacific people, and to see COP26 not meeting some of the Pacific demands is very disappointing, however, we will continue to fight for climate action and will work closely with our national governments to support our people to address the impacts of climate change.”

Marie Joanita Meltebury, COP26 Advocacy Officer, Pacific Islands Climate Action Network

“The lack of political will and climate action at COP26 to deliver and address loss and damage and climate finance is very disappointing. Maybe the large emitters must experience the ever-increasing heat, the constant worry and fear before a category 5 cyclone hits, the loss of property after a cyclone, the sadness when watching your beautiful coral reefs disappear knowing your future generations will never fish there before they address loss and damage and climate finance. To us, who have not done much to contribute to this climate crisis yet stand to lose everything, this is unacceptable and UNJUST! We will continue to fight for climate justice so that loss and damage and climate finance must be delivered to address the current climate injustice we are facing”.

Jeshua Hope, Climate Policy Officer, Pacific Islands Climate Action Network

“The Loss & Damage we’re seeing because of climate change is undeniable and yet the solutions, we’ve put forward to address it are ignored. We cannot wait any longer nor can we keep peddling the idea of a phased approach – there’s no more time for that. What we needed at COP26 was decisive leadership that recognized the need for urgent action and transformational change and yet despite the calls from civil society and people across the world – that leadership failed us.

This feature was published at PICAN on 15 November 2021, reposted via PACNEWS.

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