The world’s first international treaty that bans or phases out fossil fuels is being considered by leaders of developing Pacific islands nations after a summit in the Solomon Islands this week.
The leaders of 14 countries agreed to consider a proposed Pacific climate treaty, which would bind signatories to targets for renewable energy and ban new or the expansion of coalmines, at the annual leaders’ summit of the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF).
Mahendra Kumar, climate change advisor to PIDF, told the Guardian the treaty proposal was received very positively by the national leaders.
“They seemed convinced that this is an avenue where the Pacific could again show or build on the moral and political leadership that they’ve shown earlier in their efforts to tackle climate change,” he said.
The PIDF was formed in 2013, spearheaded by Fiji, and excludes Australia and New Zealand, which are members of the older Pacific Islands Forum. There were claims at the time that Australia and New Zealand attempted to sabotage the group’s first meeting.
Then in 2015 Australia and New Zealand foiled an attempt by the developing countries in the older forum to take a 1.5C target to last year’s Paris climate change conference.
But the treaty being considered by the newer group embraces the aspirational 1.5C target set at Paris, setting mitigation targets that are in line with it, as well as establishing adaptation mechanisms to cope with the effects of that warming.
Written by a coalition of non-governmental organisations called the Pacific Island Climate Action Network (PICAN), the model treaty will be the subject of consultations, which will result in a report to the summit next year.
Kumar said it is unlikely to be adopted within one year, but it was possible it could be adopted the following year, in 2018.
Joeteshna Gurdayal Zenos, acting head of Pacfic Net, which is Greenpeace Australia Pacific’s climate justice project, said: “Pacific island leaders are among the most proactive in the world on global warming because their countries are bearing the brunt of climate changes.
“Their willingness to consider a Pacific climate treaty shows much-needed leadership on the world’s most pressing environmental challenge,” she said.
In a report that presents the model treaty, PICAN said: “The rationale is that potential Parties to the Treaty already possess the political courage and commitment needed to adopt a flagship legal instrument that is sufficiently ambitious to prevent catastrophic changes in the global climate system.
Report’s author says many media outlets have misinterpreted the science by conflating sea-level rise with climate change.
“Such a treaty, when implemented in collaboration with PIDF and civil society, would send a powerful signal to markets, governments and civil society around the world that the end of fossil fuels is near, with Pacific Islanders acting not as victims of climate change but as agents of change.
“As there is currently no treaty that bans or phases out fossil fuels, the Treaty would set a pioneering example to the rest of the world.”
The treaty itself would bind parties to not approve any new coal or fossil fuel mines and not provide any subsidy for fossil fuel mining or consumption.
It says parties will ensure “universal access” to clean energy by 2030, and would establish a “Pacific framework for renewable energy” to achieve that goal.
The treaty would establish a fund, which would provide compensation for communities that have suffered climate change-related losses.
The proposed treaty also has sections on climate-related migration and adaptation.
PIDF summit, a success
Meanwhile the Honiara-hosted 4th Pacific Islands Forum Development Forum Leaders’ Summit concluded on Wednesday this week and the new Chair of the organisation, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Hon Manasseh Sogavare described the two-day dialogue as ‘very successful.’
Addressing the media at the conclusion of the summit late Wednesday, Prime Minister Sogavare who has assumed the PIDF Chairmanship for a two-year period said, “ It was a very successful summit. Everything went very well as planned with a number of very important resolutions reached.”
He said the summit started off with pre-summit discussions on various topics of interest to PIDF Member States and concluded with the handing over of the chairmanship from Prime Minister Hon Bainimarama of Fiji to him as well as discussions on the report of the PIDF Secretary-General, Francois Martel.
The pre-summit discussions covered the Paris Agreement, which emanated from the United Nations Summit on Climate Change in Paris (COP21), roadmap to COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco, Harnessing and Guaranteeing Ocean Wealth, Enhancing Collaboration in Achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and Opportunities for Accessing Climate Change Adaptation Financing.
The PIDF chairmanship handover to the Solomon Islands Prime Minister from his Fiji counterpart- the first time for another PIDF Member State apart from Fiji to take on this role- will see the incumbent serve for a two-year term.
The report by the PIDF Secretary-General covered PIDF’s Budget and Work Programme for 2017, Regional Development Trust Fund, Roadmap for Climate Change, Proposal for a Pacific Climate Treaty, Resolution for the Observance of the Pacific Year of Ocean 2017, PIDF Blue Economy Conference in 2017, PIDF role in UN Conference on Oceans and Seas, PIDF Contribution to the Climate Induced Migration Summit and the IMO- European Union Project on Capacity Building for Climate Change Mitigation in the Maritime Shipping Sector.
“As you know the Pacific Islands Development forum is made up of small developing island states and is a very inclusive organisation and therefore the summit was very much focused on getting our collective voice on global issues affecting us.
“ We acknowledge that because of our smallness, we can only make an influence on decisions on global issues that affect us if we have a collective stand and I think we have improved on that. The outcome of the Paris Agreement for example- the number of positions that were put forward by our small island developing states leading on from the climate change heavily focused Suva Declaration (this declaration emanated from the third PIDF Leaders’ Summit held in Suva, Fiji in 2015).
“A number of issues that were raised by leaders at that forum are reflected in the Paris Agreement. What is left now is the implementation of that agreement which we leaders see as a huge challenge but once again there is that collective approach because of our smallness.
“The achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for example, while we appreciate that the prime responsibility to ensure these goals are achieved rests with member countries to streamline our various targets and goals to develop economical strategies, the need for a collective voice on decisions on very important issues affecting us underpins the importance of the PIDF.”
The resolutions reached at the 4th summit will be developed into a declaration called the Honiara Declaration, which will be released in due course.
The Secretary-General Francois Martel in turn thanked the Solomon Islands Government for hosting the summit, adding that it was quite special as it was the first to be held outside of Fiji since the inception of PIDF in 2013 and enforcement of the PIDF Charter during the third Leaders’ Summit in Suva, Fiji, 10-months ago.
He said the decision to start hosting the annual summit outside of Fiji shows the spirit of inclusivity the PIDF wants to instil in its members.
“We owe the gratitude for Solomon Islands to take on that challenging role. Prime Minister Sogavare has taken upon himself quite a challenge because we are talking about two years of chairmanship, which means two Leaders’ Summits, four Members of the Representative Council Meetings and hopefully the 2017 Blue Economy Summit,” Martel added.
The PIDF Secretary-General said the PIDF Leaders at this year’s summit focused not only on the PIDF organisational structure but also discussions reflecting on the oceans and the key issues that will happen in 2016 and 2017.
He said the summit also focused on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the roadmap of the PIDF to the upcoming UN Climate Change Summit (COP22) in Marrakesh, Morocco.
“You know we were all excited that the Paris Agreement was signed though it has not been fully ratified yet. But there is a lot of excitement about what could be done but there are also a lot of difficulties in ensuring that we are not trying to rewrite the Paris Agreement.
“COP22 is not about refining the Paris Agreement. It’s rather about putting in place modalities for its implementation and the Pacific still has a very key role to play in ensuring that we continue the leadership role that we took in Paris, France and that is evident by the work that leaders did in the shaping of the Suva Declaration.”.