Climate Weekly: Fiji sets out Pacific COP vision

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A blue polynesian outrigger that's still used today rests on the shore of a tropical island in Fiji (Pic: Deposit Photos)


A Fijian ocean-going canoe will have pride of place at the next round of UN climate talks in November, prime minister Frank Bainimarama revealed this week.

That is to remind you that although the meeting is, for practical reasons, taking place in Bonn, Germany, a Pacific islander is in charge.

In his speech to the UN general assembly, Bainimarama highlighted the costs of inaction on climate change, citing destructive tropical storms.

He had backing from UN chief Antonio Guterres, who said cutting emissions “must clearly be part of our response” to the carnage wreaked by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

In a remarkable twist, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega promised to finally join the Paris climate agreement, in solidarity with victims of extreme weather.

The central American country was the only one to vocally object to the deal in Paris, saying it was inadequate to prevent dangerous warming. While standing by that criticism, Ortega aligned himself with the near-consensus view it was better to take part than not.

It would leave the US in a tiny club of Paris outsiders with war-torn Syria, should Donald Trump follow through with his threat to quit.

In parallel with the UN summit, California governor Jerry Brown touted his “Under 2 coalition” of cities and states pledging climate action. Signatories so far are responsible for 39% of global GDP and Brown has been appointed a special envoy by the Fijian COP23 presidency.

Back in California, an ambitious bill to set a 100% renewable electricity target stalled, after strong pushback from utilities.

1.5, revived

In Paris, countries vulnerable to the impacts of climate change scored a surprise win by getting 1.5C adopted as an aspirational warming limit. But it had a credibility problem: the majority of scientists said – at least in private – that was simply unfeasible.

A study published in Nature Geoscience on Monday shocked many by saying that the “carbon budget” for 1.5C was bigger than previously thought. That means that with rapid action to cut emissions, staying within 1.5C is still geophysically possible, if politically and economically challenging.

It is conveniently timed for Bainimarama, who along with most Pacific leaders, insists 1.5C, not 2C, is the target.

But the findings were widely misinterpreted, scientists say, by rightwing media as showing that climate models previously overestimated global warming. You can expect this narrative to keep fact-checkers busy for years to come.

Even policymakers reading the paper in good faith may find its radical recalculation of carbon budgets confusing, scientists (and long term 1.5C sceptics) Glen Peters and Oliver Geden write. They argue that aiming for net zero emissions by the end of the century – also in the Paris agreement – is a more useful target.

Any thoughts on the political implications of the 1.5C carbon budget study? Email me: [email protected]

Where’s the money?

As for the other priority of vulnerable countries – cash to cope with extreme weather – the situation is less hopeful.

A mountain of paperwork stands between the world’s poorest and the UN-backed Green Climate Fund, complained experts at a conference in Dhaka this week.

The first Bangladeshi institution accredited to channel funds, Idcol, had to produce 188 documents in a two-year process, a government official said.

An investment shortfall is also holding back efforts to bring electricity to every household worldwide by 2030, Sustainable Energy for All reported.

Finance flows to the 20 priority countries need to double to meet the sustainable development goal, it said, calling for a focus on off-grid solar to reach the rural poor.

Climate conversations
Kenya’s most polluting coal plant could poison coastline – David Obura, CORDIO
‘UN reformer’ Guterres must do more on climate change – Camilla Born, E3G
Did limiting warming to 1.5C just get easier? – Glen Peters, CICERO and Oliver Geden, SWP Berlin

Read more on: Climate politics