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
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.
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.
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.