The Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), an advocacy group of 42 states, has been pushing hard for action on climate change, which it argues could render many low-lying islands uninhabitable.
Worldfocus spoke with Dessima Williams, chair of AOSIS and Grenada’s Ambassador to the UN.
Worldfocus: The small island states pushed hard for a legally binding document to come out of Copenhagen, even introducing a different version of the Copenhagen Protocol. But the talks ended up producing a voluntary agreement. What is your reaction to this outcome?
Williams: First of all, the Copenhagen Accord does not represent a legally binding document, nor does it serve as the basis for the continuation of negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This is exclusively a political document, providing guidance for individual countries to establish their own negotiating positions moving forward.
While we recognize the measurable progress that this Accord represents, we are generally disappointed with this substandard, insular document that does little to guarantee the safety and continued survival of the small island states. The level of ambition necessary to tackle climate change is simply not reflected in the Accord, and in substantive terms, ignores the scientific exigency of this impending climatic catastrophe.
Worldfocus: Industrialized nations did agree to create a fund that will help small, developing countries cope with the effects of climate change. Are you satisfied with the terms of this fund, and are you confident the funds will start to flow soon?
Williams: The special access fund that was created is a first step in staving off the worst effects of climate change, which the small island states will inevitably be the first to suffer. However, as it based more on political needs and compromises than genuine international compromise on legally-binding emissions limitations, it falls woefully short of producing meaningful change.
Undoubtedly, these funds are critical to our ability to adapt to climate change and our efforts to develop cleaner and more efficient economies. But without substantial cuts in emissions, the funds will only be used to delay the inevitable – complete destruction and immeasurable suffering.
Additionally, it remains to be seen whether the industrialized countries are able to follow through with their commitments, especially in the face of continuing global recession and fears of economic relapse.
Moreover, the notion that oil-producing countries should be compensated for significantly reduced demand as a result of binding emissions targets –- one embodied in the Accord -– is illogical and radically inequitable. This will surely draw funds away from those countries that need them the most, and will work to further erode the legitimacy of future negotiations.
Worldfocus: “1.5 to Stay Alive” was your slogan going into Copenhagen was — meaning that your survival depends on global temperatures not rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius [about 3 degrees Farenheit]. But negotiators settled on a target of 2 degrees Celsius. What does this mean for small island states?
Williams: Our slogan will always, unequivocally remain “1.5 to Stay Alive,” regardless of the outcome of Copenhagen. This number is absolutely essential to our collective survival, in addition to the continued vitality of the Earth’s wide-ranging ecosystems and biodiversity.
While we consider it encouraging that this political accord agrees to an increase in global temperature of less than 2 degrees Celsius, we will continue to fight for less than 1.5 degrees C benchmark in all of our future negotiating sessions.
The science has explicitly demonstrated time and time again that a level of ambition which stabilizes global temperatures below 1.5 degrees C is required for the survival of our island states. Moreover, this number is both technologically and economically feasible –- per usual, only the politics lags behind this reality.
If this level is not reached, the international community is signaling its indifference to the certain doom of the small island nations, which in our mind is entirely deplorable.
Worldfocus: Is the United States doing enough on the issue of climate change? What would you like to see from the U.S. this year?
Williams: The United States is not doing anywhere near what it should be doing on the issue of climate change. Their legislative system is exasperatingly paralyzed by partisan politics, their environmental agencies are stymied by sharp budget cuts and leadership voids and their chief executive seems to be flustered –- or worse, unaware –- of the sheer magnitude of this global problem.
While the rhetoric is always stimulating and focused, federal actions do little to validate such promise. We are sincerely appreciative of the effort put forth by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton at Copenhagen, and welcome the continued support of the administration in terms of both financing and resources.
However, their willingness to bypass the traditional fora for negotiation in favor of bilateral and multilateral side agreements with the largest emitters undermined the UN system and actively frustrated progress. Moreover, the political endgame waged constantly against China and the developing countries grew tiresome.
As for this coming year, it is critical that the U.S. pass some form of climate legislation to expedite the process of developing an international, legally-binding agreement at the COP16 [the next climate summit] in Mexico next November. This will give U.S. negotiators the leverage and legitimacy they need to play their role in facilitating this agreement crucial to our survival. Also, continued contribution to the “green fund” for adaptation is very important.
– Megan Thompson