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Loss and damage in the international climate negotiations

Here is the transcript of interview with Martin de Jong, 27 May 2018. Martin is Advocacy and Research Advisor for Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand and lead researcher / writer for the annual Caritas State of the Environment for Oceania reports.

The interviewer was Genevieve Jiva from Suva, Fiji. As Project Officer for the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN), she worked with members to develop policy positions in the lead up to the UNFCCC COP23 negotiations in Bonn, Germany.

Can you tell me how you came to be involved in this climate-related issue?

In 2015, I was doing postgraduate studies at the University of the South Pacific (USP) and in the lead-up to COP21, PIDF [Pacific Islands Development Forum] had their Summit in Suva. I was a student rapporteur helping to work on the Suva Declaration and the proceedings of the summit.

During one of the open discussions, then President Anote Tong [of Kiribati] stood up and said, "We have to get Loss and Damage into the Paris Agreement, it has to be a separate article, there has to be an acknowledgement this is happening."

Straight after that, the US Ambassador at the time stood up and said, "Anything that references loss and damage, anything to do with loss and damage: the US is not going to agree to it at all, in Paris."

And then President Tong said, "Well, you can call it whatever you want, you can call it loss and damage or damage and loss, but it needs to be in there for small island countries."

And so that's where my interest in loss and damage first started as I wanted to see how it would culminate in Paris, and I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to go to Paris and to see firsthand. I followed the loss and damage track and I saw how the US negotiators handled the issue and how in the end Tuvalu was able to find a compromise with the US to get loss and damage as a separate article.

And who did you go with to the Paris negotiations?

I went as part of a student delegation from the University of the South Pacific (USP), facilitated by the Pacific Center for Environment and Sustainable Development. I was funded by my school, the School of Government, Development and International Affairs. A number of other students received funding from the EU as part of this USP program, for us to be part of our country delegations and to support them and learn from them during the negotiations.

How would you say the global state of climate negotiations and the outlook for the Pacific world are, from your perspective?

I think the current state of negotiations is not very positive, because progress on any of the issues is very slow. Much of the time it's just talk, that doesn't really lead to consistent and substantial progress and action. So countries, because of the nature of the Convention, countries can say that they're going to do something, but not do it; or say that it should be done but then they won't do it. It's basically a talk-shop, twice a year, but then the progress is baby steps of baby steps. Right now, they've committed to keeping the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 or 2 degrees, but where we are now indicates a world heading for three to four degrees, which is catastrophic for the Pacific and other small nations, island nations in particular.

And how would you describe the status of the loss and damage negotiations?

The current status is very disappointing. At the last negotiations, the April-May intersessionals in Bonn, there was an expert dialogue, called the Suva expert dialogue on loss and damage, which was meant to look at how to address loss and damage, including finance, but it was another talk shop. There wasn't much progress made, particularly on loss and damage finance; and there are communities, and whole countries even, facing loss and damage with no real support.

Given that, what's your take on where to now for loss and damage? How can the global community, or civil society, or those most affected, make any progress on this issue?

I think that, given that developed countries don't want to talk about finance at all, that they don't want to take responsibility for the fact that they've caused this problem, means that we might have to look at other avenues. One of the possible ways that we can get loss and damage finance is to set up a loss and damage fund for small island states: a fund that is partially funded by innovative sources of finance which include things like an aviation tax, or a climate damages tax, or a vehicle tax.

It could even be things like donations, or international organisations who would like to do projects in small island countries giving a portion of their budget to this fund, so that if and when there is loss and damage, communities affected can get some form of support.

And of course this doesn't mean that we're letting developed countries off the hook. We absolutely want them to contribute to this fund as well, and if possible, a large portion of the fund should come from those sources.

Where you are in Fiji, have you seen particular examples of loss and damage?

Absolutely, I can actually speak to a personal example when cyclone Winston hit. It happened overnight and where I was sleeping in my room, and the mango tree just outside my window came down on the roof. If our house hadn't been as strong, it could possibly have come down on me.

We see these examples year after year and they're getting worse – two category 5 cyclones in the space of 12 months, where previously we had none. Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, cyclone Winston in Fiji, and also, this year, more concerningly, back to back cyclones: one in the first week of April, then another one in the second week of April [in Fiji] ‒ causing huge destruction.

And then, other than extreme events, there's also loss and damage from slow onset events, like sea level rise and coastal erosion, where we see islands that have already disappeared, where we see coastal communities that have had to move up, move inland, move out of where they've been living for hundreds of years, and having to change their whole way of life from a coastal sea-based lifestyle to a more agricultural lifestyle.

And what keeps you going in this space when there seems to be very slow progress in international negotiations?

It is really slow progress. For me it's a faith in humanity, the fact that I believe that, when push comes to shove, we're not going to let whole countries disappear, we're not going to let whole peoples' cultures and lifestyles become completely extinct.

What also keeps me going is seeing how our leaders from the Pacific conduct themselves, are able to speak in the international negotiations, they're able to make decisions and influence decisions, and have a say and show that, even though we may be small and we may be seen as powerless when it comes to traditional politics – no military, a weak economy, low population, small territory – we still have power in international negotiations, and when we speak with one voice, we speak very clearly and very powerfully in groupings like climate coalitions, like AOSIS and the G77. And that keeps me going, seeing how the negotiations work in a way in which it's not just the developed countries, it's not just the richest and most powerful countries, who are making all the decisions.

Also, it's seeing how civil society moves in these spaces, and seeing how Pacific groups and youth groups in particular, like the Pacific Climate warriors and Pacific Islands Represent, community groups like DIVA for Equality, projects around the Pacific, how these groups are able to move within the negotiations, how we work with each other, and how we make sure we keep the spirit alive, and that we keep taking our stories to these negotiations, we keep putting the human face on climate change.

Anything else?

I'd love to know that, if this ever gets to a developed country, to a political leader, someone who's able to make these decisions and make it happen, it will lead them to understand that we're not talking about the future, we're talking about now, that this is very much about the survival of a people, of many peoples, and I hope they'll be able to make the right decision and keep fossil fuels in the ground!

Published in Chain Reaction #133, September 2018. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia.

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