Climate Change and Conflict By George Carter | 17 November, 2023
A New Pacific Diplomacy for COP28
This year’s COP 28 is of particular importance because of the first Global Stocktake (GST) of the Paris Agreement. The GST will show how far the international community has come – or has not come – towards the goals formulated in Paris in December 2015.
It is of utmost importance that Pacific Island Countries (PICs) are present and make their voice heard at COP28 in Dubai. They are the ones who push hardest for environmental integrity, while other nations, in particular oil producing countries, may try to slow down the process of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions reductions. PICs will put pressure on the main GHG emitting countries to substantially cut emissions, and they will fight to have an ambitious global goal on adaptation, especially for PICs which are at the frontline of climate change and most affected by its effects.
This is most severe for low-lying atoll nations like Tuvalu, Kiribati and Marshall Islands. To secure considerably more funding for mitigation and adaptation measures in PICs will be a major issue from a Pacific perspective. In particular, the push to finalise discussions to establish a financial mechanism for loss and damage, which has been agreed upon in principle at last year’s COP, will have to be established at COP28, with clear and substantial financial commitments of major GHG emitting countries. And structures and procedures will have to be put in place that guarantee that loss and damage funding will actually reach the most affected communities in PICs.
There will be controversy, in particular between fossil fuel producing countries like the United Arab Emirates, the host of this year’s COP, which will argue for a slow phasing down of fossil fuels, and PICs and others who want to phase out of fossil fuels all together. Countries like Vanuatu and Tuvalu are leading in the Fossil Free Treaty campaign.
Climate negotiations are centred on consensus – it is not necessarily about building an agreement, rather an agreement not to disagree. At the end of the day, all countries have to come on board, including oil-producing countries and coal-exporting countries, like Australia, and the Pacific has to win over big fossil fuel companies. COP is the only platform we have for inclusive multilateral negotiations; it is by no means perfect, but it enables international dialogue about a way forward. There is no other mechanism that allows PICs to put pressure on GHG emitters.
PICs can speak with significant moral authority as they speak from the position of the lived reality of climate change impacts – today, not in some distant future. These are everyday impacts, challenging for example the food and water security of communities in the Pacific, and these are the impacts of catastrophic extreme weather events, like cyclones, which hit PICs with growing frequency and intensity. To bring these experiences into COP is a major responsibility for PICs delegates: whether leaders, officials, negotiators, civil society, local and indigenous groups, private sector and academics. Moreover, it is fundamental for the general discourse on global climate change and for framing dialogue and negotiations.
Over the last years, PICs have more become ambitious, coordinated in bringing their concerns and demands into COPs. This agency and coherence to work as a regional bloc can be understood as part of the New Pacific Diplomacy approach. This approach was introduced by Pacific academics from the Pacific to explain the agency of Pacific states in international politics as foregrounded by leaders such as Tony de Brum from the Marshall Islands, Anote Tong from Kiribati and Enele Sopoaga from Tuvalu after they had recognised that traditional conventional diplomacy had failed.
It allowed PICs to exert considerable influence at COPs, punching well above their weight, by bringing in local and grassroots communities, the voices of women and youth, (street) activism geared towards climate justice, and Pasifika culture – to be a part of the official delegations and messages of Pacific states. Pacific coalitions could be formed, not only between the representatives of different PICs, but also between governments and non-state actors. They were able to strategise as a collective and work together in solidarity. They are building a Pacific consensus amongst themselves first in areas that are of major importance for them and then they can speak with one voice at COPs.
This approach necessitates continuous engagement and dialogue, ongoing communication and collaboration between technical experts, researchers and policymakers. Today at COP28 we see the collective of states and officials as PSIDS (Pacific SIDS), and they are support by regional organisations know as One CROP Plus. CROP is the Council Regional of Organisations in the Pacific – and the Secretariat of the Regional Environment Program (SPREP) leads One CROP in COP.
Currently there is work underway to expand the Pacific Diplomacy approach to what may be called Oceanic Diplomacy which takes traditional indigenous ways of diplomacy on board, with a focus on relational Pacific understandings of being and coming together, tapping into the rich cultural resources of Pacific people(s). For example, talanoa around the kava bowl is a powerful, effective and legitimate way of conducting diplomacy in the Pacific. Cultural forms of honouring senior members of delegations, and cultural forms of bringing younger members into the strategizing and decision-making processes so as to engage in intergenerational dialogue are also important for Oceanic Diplomacy in general, and for climate change negotiations in particular.
This cultural relational Pacific or Oceanic Diplomacy approach is not least significant for addressing the issue of climate change, peace and security. At this year’s COP, ‘peace’ for the first time is a separate topic of deliberations. There will be a series of side events that will deal with the climate-peace nexus, and this is actually promoted and supported by the UAE presidency as ‘Relief, Recovery and Peace’ on December 3. There is growing acceptance in the UNFCCC community to bring in discussions about this topic. We have to acknowledge that the effects of climate change cause tensions in societies, there are increasing risks, and the danger is that these risks will escalate and become threats to the peace in societies and to the security of states. This challenge has to be discussed, it has to be a key concern on the agenda of future COPs, hopefully a Pacific-led COP.
To summarise: Even if the outcomes of COP28 probably will not be sufficient, it is important for PICs to engage with COP. Pacific Islanders should not leave the COP forum to others; they can use COPs to feed Pasifika knowledge, culture and approaches into the global agenda and thus become a force for climate justice.
Related articles in the COP28 series:
COP, peace and the Pacific Islands (3-minute read)
A loss and damage fund in the Pacific? (3-minute read)
Between a rock and a hard place (3-minute read)
This is not climate justice: The Australia–Tuvalu Falepili Union (3-minute read)
COP and the unaccounted loss and damage for Pacific Youth (3-minute read)
George Carter is a Research Fellow at the Department of Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University (ANU) and he is Director of ANU’s Pacific Institute.