Climate Ambition kept alive by Island Nations

Climate change is not a pending threat for small island nations. It is a part of their daily lives right now. From whole islands being swallowed by the sea in the Pacific to more frequent and intense hurricane activity destroying Caribbean islands, climate change is a very real, present, and urgent issue. Delays in ambition are not an option.

For island nations, climate ambition is not just a buzzword thrown around for public relations purposes. It is crucial to prevent inaction. It is a matter of survival. 

climate ambition
Island nations are ground zero for intense coastal erosion due to sea level rise. Here we see the coastal fishing village of Manzanilla in Trinidad and Tobago.

As President Peter Christian of Micronesia has stated:

“We must become more cohesive in our actions to help mitigate the threat of sinking islands and prevent the potential genocide of Oceanic peoples and cultures.”

Changing tides in the global climate agenda

COP25 was disappointing and brought timid results of COP25. The world was looking forward to what 2020 would bring for climate action. It was set to be a year of successful climate diplomacy, with COP26 taking the baton from Madrid to Scotland. Hopes were high for decisive action on issues such as the infamous carbon markets. This year, countries are also expected to confirm updates to their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). 

However, hope does not currently match reality. On April 1st, due to the global coronavirus pandemic, the climate movement was dealt a huge blow with the postponement of COP26 and many other critical meetings. We’re five months into the year and only five countries have submitted their new NDCs. 

Climate vulnerable but resilient to change 

In spite of these delays, island nations are pushing for increased climate ambition. From 20-22 April, this was achieved through the Placencia Ambitions Forum(PAF). PAF was originally set by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) to take place in Placencia, Belize. Travel restrictions led to quick changes to ensure the continuation of the forum, with a switch to online meetings.

Coastal erosion on along the southwestern coast of Tobago,  which depends heavily on tourism as its economic mainstay.

Tyrone Hall, Adviser to AOSIS, stated that “island nations are faced with a perennial problem of getting their priorities on the agenda at large climate negotiations”. 

PAF was a climate-ambition raising event. It raised awareness of the critical needs of island nations related to adaptation work and the resources needed to drive that work,” Hall told Climate Tracker.

Throughout COP25, AOSIS countries led the charge for ramped up ambition. A clarion call was issued – “Our Decade of Ambition.” It demanded decisions around Loss and Damage, the 1.5 degree target, and Article 6 be consistent with mitigation efforts and transparency. 

Climate ambition from an island perspective 

 Hall shared that, from an island perspective, climate ambition must involve big action on the mitigation side. 

“We want to see action aligned with the 1.5 Pathway. We want to see countries raising their NDCs to be consistent with a 1.5 world. Island nations defend the science which proves how rapidly we need to cut emissions.”  

In November 2019, the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) published its Emissions Gap Report, It highlighted that as things stand, temperatures can rise to 3.2 degrees celsius this century. A far cry from the 1.5 Pathway AOSIS countries are championing. 

Additionally, Tyrone shared that climate ambition for AOSIS means

“Dynamic support for islands to be able to cope with the changes that are already happening. We need to rapidly adapt to impacts on our food, health, transport, and energy systems, brought about by climate change. For this to take place, we need finance and we need island-responsive climate systems, across the spectrum of development.”

AOSIS Placencia Ambition Forum Takeaways 

The Forum was one of the biggest climate events that still managed to happen this year. It put those involved in a place of readiness to address island-specific climate issues on a larger scale. Viewed in seventy-three countries around the world, it placed emphasis on addressing energy, transport, adaptation and building resilience, and financing ambition. 

climate ambition
Five of the Solomon Islands have already been submerged underwater and six more have experienced a dramatic reduction in shoreline due to climate change, according to a paper published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“Perceptibility is a key factor in acknowledging climate change is happening and generating the response. Island nations experience it, we know it, we see and feel the effects of climate change everyday. In this unique position of direct exposure, island nations will continue to build on the momentum created by PAF although COP has been postponed,” Hall shared.

Rueanna Haynes, Senior Legal Adviser and Team Lead for AOSIS support at Climate Analytics, told Climate Tracker that “…hopefully Parties will use this time to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other’s positions with a view to developing proposals aimed at bridging the gaps. We may not be able to take decisions at this time but this does not automatically equate to a lack of progress.”

Though COP26 postponement is understood in light of health risks, governments need to keep ramping up their climate policies.

Small islands have a lot to lose but they are ready to set big goals and keep the climate ambition drumbeat alive.

Dizzanne Billy
Dizzanne is the Caribbean Regional Director at Climate Tracker, a freelance writer, and an all-around storyteller. With a special place in her heart for the beach, cats, and Coldplay, she's experienced in journalism, communications, marketing, and finding the perfect song to suit any situation.