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Wansolwara: Pacific Island representation at COP15 climate conference criticised

Thousands of people took to the streets in 2009 in New Zealand and other Pacific nations, urging decision makers to back climate change reduction policies. (Photo courtesy of Greenpeace NZ.)

Pacific Scoop:
Wansolwara Report – By Dawn Gibson, in Suva.

With some Pacific Island countries reportedly at risk of extinction due to sea-level rise, the Copenhagen Conference of Parties (COP15) was a waste of time, mainly due to a lack of good representation from the Pacific region.

These were the sentiments expressed by panel members at the Post Copenhagen Forum in Suva recently.

The Forum, titled “The Copenhagen (Dis)agreement!? Climate Joke or Climate Justice?” was hosted by the Pacific Regional Non-governmental Organisations (PRNGO) and the Fiji National University (FNU).

General Secretary of the Pacific Council of Churches Fei’lao’kitau Tevi said that, while it was the role of the South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP) and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) to promote a regional profile at COP15, they failed to do so.

“Promotion should have been through the creation of these regional profiles.These profiles would have provided the countries involved with an accurate account of the possible damage to our region.

“While SPREP gave excellent media coverage of proceedings, they didn’t do any favours for the Pacific region,” said Tevi.

He added that while many other countries had the advantage of regional profiles, countries in the Pacific region that are more at risk did not.

Tevi added that from the entire Pacific region, only 11 reps were present in Copenhagen when, with more youth and NGO involvement, awareness as well as momentum could have been built up.

“NGOs spend masses of their time on research that is very relevant to meets such as COP15 and governments should allow more of them to participate in such talks. The youth groups can also play a major role here,” he said.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Climate Change Officer, Ben Namakin, supported Tevi’s comments on youth and NGO involvement.

“NGOs should be consulted more often and must work closely with governments and leaders with one position, not different ones.

“We as Pacific Islanders should be able to come together as vulnerable countries and have one position,” he said.

Mr Namakin added that experienced NGOs such as Greenpeace have the ability to empower Pacific’s youth through workshops and training programmes.

“This way they will be more prepared for such important events and will therefore be able to represent the Pacific region better,” he said.

Youth representative at the Forum, Leah Wickham, said that it was a “refreshing change” to see a striking increase in Pacific Island youth involvement in these matters.
“Youth involvement increased from 100 to 2000 participants during the COP15 lead up and we hope that number continues to increase,” she said.
The panel expressed a keen interest in building momentum towards a better, more prepared meet this year in Mexico.

“We hope to see more cooperation among governments, NGOs and youth groups to assist with a regional profile as well as a stronger Pacific voice,” said Tevi.

Each year, forum countries elect a country to chair for 12 months and in 2009, Australia was elected chair.

“While elected chair, Australia provided AUD$120 million to the entire Pacific region, with AUD$20 million going into scientific research in Australia,” confirmed a representative from the Australian High Commission.

This year, Vanuatu has been nominated chair of PIFS and “people are looking forward to a coherent Pacific position at the coming meet in Mexico.

“We are hoping that this new leadership will take initiatives towards ensuring that the voice from the regional Pacific is heard,” concluded Tevi.