On the occasion of the UNFCCC COP21, when world leaders were debating and deciding on a path to reducing carbon emissions and other greenhouse gasses (GHG), the Overseas Countries and Territories Association (OCTA) with the support of the European Union co-chaired a well-attended island event with the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA) on 8 December 2015 at the Maison de la Nouvelle Calédonie in Paris. The high level event showcased the array of sustainable island solutions that are advancing climate adaptation and building resilience from the poles to the tropic, as well as highlighting the need for greater action on all islands to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change.
As a token of the spirit of cooperation and mutual understanding that prevailed that night, a customary welcome ceremony (“Geste coutumier”) opened the evening (picture).
The event was co-chaired by H.E. Mike Eman, Prime Minister of Aruba and Vice-Chair of OCTA, and The Hon. Didier Dogley, Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change of Seychelles representing GLISPA. The emcee was Ms. Maria Damanaki, Global Managing Director for Oceans, The Nature Conservancy and former European Union Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
As the opening speaker, PM Mike Eman reiterated the obligations for all islands and especially OCTs to come together as one to tackle the effects of climate change and effectively influence international decisions. He noted that for the first time “our islands have created this message in a way that we are being reckoned with, here at COP 21”. As the vice chair of OCTA, he also made a commitment that “Aruba would stand with all the other islands to make sure that our nature will be of the quality that can guarantee the safety and security of all inhabitants”. He encouraged the audience to “give a round of applause for every island in this world”, a call largely followed!
M. Philippe Gomes, Member of the French Parliament for New Caledonia, then took the floor to recall that the proposed objective to limit the raise of global temperature to 2° Celsius was in effect “too little, and too late”. Too little because such a raise would nonetheless amplify the adverse effects of climate change that island territories are facing; too late because these effects are affecting islands already and will continue to do so even if all the nations of the world stopped their emissions of greenhouse gases tomorrow.
The Hon. Dr. Kedrick Pickering, Deputy Premier of the British Virgin Islands, agreed to that conclusion and emphasised that “there is only one ocean and it is extremely important for us to have a voice to sing from the same song sheet and continue to live the anthem that global warming is going to affect islands more than any other nations in the world”. He stated that climate change is now an official policy of the national agenda, and as such, BVI had passed a legislation to create the Climate Change trust fund to enable the territory to access the thematic funds available internationally.
Representing the Arctic dimension of OCTA, the Greenland Minister for Finance, Mineral Resources and Foreign Affairs, Vittus Qujaukitsoq spoke on the urgency of the climate related changes for islands. Despite representing the biggest island in the world, the Minister also expressed observing devastating effects. Largely agreeing with the ideas of fellow islanders he stressed that “all Islands, from the poles to the tropics, are facing extreme changes but we are small voices individually. We need a strong united voice to give input to the international negotiations".
Keobel V. Sakuma, Executive Director of National Marine Sanctuary and Special Envoy of the President from the Republic of Palau insisted on the “need to do more through specific initiatives and real actions to build resilience in the islands of the world”. As a good example he declared that Palau now had become the first shark sanctuary in the world as part of the Micronesia Challenge initiative.
Mme George Pau-Langevin, French Minister for Overseas, who warmly welcomed the convening of such a high level event, supported the previous speakers in stating that “certain effects of global warming are already inevitable, which is why climate negotiations aimed now at limiting their magnitude for the current populations and future generations”.
She strongly advocated the need to shift our conception of island territories being victims of climate change to “lands of innovations, lands of solutions possessing natural resources that would allow them not only to overcome the adverse effects of climate change, but also to help the rest of the planet in tackling climate change issues by sharing experiences and accompanying innovative projects”. Those initiatives should be at the heart of the development of a new industrial sector that would benefit to all islands territories.
She noted that France had developed an “Agenda of solutions overseas” available to all partners interested and listed pilot projects selected for their innovative and reproducible characters to nurture and support the dissemination of such initiatives on all islands.
The Minister stated: “sharing experiences was a key factor of success, notably through regional initiatives such as OCTA that play a fundamental role in the fight against climate change”.
H.E. Didier Dogley, Minister for Environment and Energy from the Republic of Seychelles announced that Seychelles has concluded a historic USD30million debt restructure to fund their adaptation to climate change with the Paris Club creditors and South Africa. He concluded the presentations by thanking all speakers for sharing their inspiring solutions in the face of climate change.
The Innovative Island Solutions event proved to be a unique occasion for the OCTs to showcase their approaches to climate change adaptation and mitigation to a wide array of high-level partners. From the “Green Aruba” commitment (100% sustainable energy by 2020) to extensive hydropower activities in the Arctic Greenland and innovation projects in French Polynesia, this event demonstrated that, despite their vulnerable situation and facing enormous challenges, islands territories have a unique opportunity to tackle the present global evolutions of the climate. The OCTs can be centres of excellence for adaptation and are a lighthouse for the rest of the world in the fight against climate change.