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Fiji ups the temperature at COP 23 with call to action

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Fiji has fewer than 1m people and its CO2 output per head is only 8% of US levels. A strange country, perhaps, to preside over the world’s most important process for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. But from another perspective, Fiji is supremely well qualified to tackle climate change — its task as president of COP 23, the global climate negotiations scheduled for November.


Voreqe Bainimarama, prime minister, told Fiji’s parliament in February: “In our region, the simple truth is this: if we cannot gain the agreement of the industrial nations to keep reducing their carbon emissions and lower the global temperature, the consequences will be catastrophic.”

In the Pacific, as in the Caribbean, climate change is already a life or death struggle. COP 23, which for convenience will be held in Bonn, not Fiji, will draw attention to the plight of the lands most severely lashed by storms and rising water.

“What was originally seen as a technical COP, needed to get stuff done about rules, will now be more political,” said Jens Clausen, climate change adviser at Greenpeace in Copenhagen. “The Fijians see it as a visionary COP — they want to reinforce the ambition of the Paris Agreement and look at how we can enhance it.”

Fiji will urge the world to focus on the 1.5C target for global warming that sits in the Paris Agreement alongside the more often discussed “well below 2C” commitment. 

Bonn is not going to produce a big new agreement — though there could be some big action announcements from mayors and the likes of California governor Jerry Brown.

Instead, this COP must establish the process by which, during 2018, the rulebook for implementing Paris can be negotiated, ready to be signed off at COP 24. 

“There is lots of work to be done on how the transparency rules are designed,” said David Waskow, director of the international climate initiative at the World Resources Institute in Washington. “The intent is to have them be robust, but with flexibility for developing countries.”

Still more crucially, COP 23 will shepherd countries to start considering in 2018 how they can increase the ambition of their Paris commitments — something they are supposed to finalise by 2020.

Fiji will also push for more public and private sector finance for poor countries to fight climate change — and especially, the neglected area of adaptation.

Despite President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement, a US delegation will be there, led by diplomat Thomas Shannon. “It’s important for the US to be playing a constructive role there — I think that’s what everybody will be watching for,” said Waskow. The US and China jointly lead the work stream on transparency, so it could contribute well there.