Fairness and Climate Justice in the Face of Unimaginable Consequences
Over the last weeks, in the lead-up to COP28, the Toda Peace Institute in a Special Feature of its Global Outlook blog published a series of articles addressing the experiences of people in the Pacific region with the climate crisis and their expectations regarding this year’s COP in Dubai. Just before the start of the conference, we highlight the main concerns and issues which came to the fore in those articles.
The small island―or big ocean—states of the Pacific are severely affected by the climate crisis already today. For them, the effects of climate change, from slow-onset events like sea level rise to sudden-onset events like cyclones, pose existential threats. Therefore, Pacific Islanders first and foremost demand substantial mitigation measures now, and they demand substantial financial commitments to support them to adapt to the effects of climate change.
Much more has to be done on mitigation. The major greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters “need to commit to ambitious measures to reduce GHG emissions.” This necessitates the rapid phase out of fossil fuel production. Halting subsidies to the fossil-fuel industries, and stopping the opening of new and expanding of existing coal mines, oil and gas fields, are of particular urgency. The global fossil fuel phase out has to be accompanied by a just and equitable transition away from fossil fuels.
Furthermore, “the quality and quantity of climate finance” has to be improved considerably. In particular, the Loss and Damage fund that was agreed upon at COP27 last year has to be established and capitalised at this year’s COP. A robust Loss and Damage fund that ensures direct access for local communities most at risk is a core demand of Pacific islanders. In order to be effective and of actual use for communities, funding mechanisms will “need commitment from donors to step back from the urge to control the aid process, including through tight timeframes and complex bureaucratic processes.”
Moreover, non-economic loss and damage—the loss of one’s cultural identity, traditional knowledge, ancestral burial sites and sacred sites etc.—is of major concern for Pacific islanders. It particularly affects young people in the Pacific, especially when they have to relocate to foreign countries on the Pacific Rim. More generally, climate-induced or -forced relocation and displacement comes with substantial economic and non-economic loss and damage for people in the Pacific (and elsewhere). It can lead to direct violence and surely is a form of structural and cultural violence, with women particularly severely affected. Therefore everything has to be done to make it possible for people to stay in the places they call home before embarking on relocation as a ‘solution’ to the climate crisis.
Pacific islanders heavily criticise policies of major GHG-emitting countries that do not address the root causes of the climate emergency (in particular fossil fuels) and instead offer merely band aid ‘solutions’ to its effects. A case in point is, for example, the Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union Treaty which was announced shortly before this year’s COP. The treaty is presented by Australia as a generous offer to climate-affected people in the Pacific nation of Tuvalu, providing the right of climate-induced migration to Australia. It was hailed as the first bilateral treaty on climate mobility and “the most significant agreement between Australia and a Pacific island nation ever” (Australia’s Prime Minister Albanese). At the same time, however, the Australian government is constantly approving new coal mines and other fossil fuel projects, and its subsidies to the fossil fuel industry by far exceed Australia’s official foreign aid to the Pacific. Currently Australia is the third largest exporter of fossil fuels (coal and gas) worldwide. Against this background, the Falepili treaty clearly ‘does not deliver climate justice’. Tuvalu’s former Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga posits that the treaty is likely “to buy Tuvalu’s silence over Australia’s coal exports which will contribute to Tuvalu’s demise as a nation”. Sopoaga called the treaty ‘shameful’ – all the more so as the offer of a special human mobility pathway for Tuvaluans to Australia is, in a ‘highly neocolonial Western’ manner, linked to giving Australia veto powers over Tuvalu’s foreign, security and defence policy, thus eroding the country’s sovereignty or, in Sopoaga’s words, “ceding Tuvalu sovereignty to Australia.” If Australia really wants to be a member of the ‘Pacific family’ and ‘a good neighbour’ (this is what the Tuvalu term falepili means), it has to do more to combat the causes of climate change, not least if it wants to co-host COP31 in 2026 together with Pacific Island countries.
On the positive side, it has to be acknowledged that for the first time 'peace' is going to be a special topic at a COP in Dubai this year. It is even planned to launch a ‘COP28 Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace Declaration.’ The prevention of climate related conflicts and peacebuilding indeed need much more attention in the context of climate policies. The United Nation’s ‘New Agenda for Peace’ from July 2023 clearly states:
Failure to tackle head-on the challenges posed by climate change, and the inequalities it creates, through ambitious mitigation, adaptation and implementation of the loss and damage agenda, bolstered by adequate climate finance, will have devastating effects, for the planet as well as development, human rights and our shared peacebuilding objectives.
If global warming continues unabated at the current pace, then this will have ‘unimaginable’ consequences for peace and security globally, and particularly in the regions most severely affected by climate change – which at the same time are the most fragile and conflict-affected.
If the delegates at COP 28 really want to take the climate-peace link seriously, they should make sure that substantial climate adaptation financing goes to fragile and conflict-affected states, addressing the vicious circle of fragility/conflict and climate change: climate change exacerbates conflict-prone problems such as displacement or competition over scarce natural resources, and fragility/conflict impedes climate adaptation and mitigation.
Pacific Islanders have proposals for how to tackle the climate crisis, and they will make their voices heard at COP28, pursuing a relational Pacific or Oceanic Diplomacy approach that brings together governments, Pasifika culture, local communities, grassroots activism and the voices of women, youth and traditional leaders, advocating not only for the rights of today’s Pacific people(s), but also the rights of future generations and the rights of nature.
2023 will be the warmest year on record, and a report released by the United Nations Environment Programme shortly before COP28 posits that under current policies global warming could reach three degrees Celsius by the end of the century. That would be a catastrophe of global dimensions. Unfortunately, preparations for COP28 were, and the conference itself probably will be, overshadowed by another catastrophe that is currently unfolding before the eyes of the world: the fierce and cruel Israel – Hamas war in Gaza, not too far away from the COP28 venue in Dubai. It would be tragic if attention to that war distracts from the urgency of the climate emergency and its global future devastations, including widespread violent conflicts. There cannot be peace without a climate in which people in the Pacific and all over the world can not only survive, but can live decent lives.
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)
A new Pacific Diplomacy for COP28 (3-minute read)
Volker Boege is Senior Research Fellow at Toda Peace Institute.