1.5 future is still possible, despite Biden Summit shortfalls – Dame Meg Taylor


The Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor says a commitment to keeping global warming to the Paris Agreement limit of 1.5 degrees is still possible, if developed nations do their part.

Speaking to TVNZ journalist John Campbell on the ONE Breakfast show today, the SG said reducing carbon emissions and keeping to the 1.5 limit on global warming was important for the people of low lying atolls bearing the brunt of climate change- “ but also assisting them with the type of technology that’s going to be needed to strengthen their atolls, the way they live and innovative solutions as well. And I don’t think it’s beyond humankind to do that. We can put rockets into space, but we don’t seem to care much about what happens in small atolls.”

Dame Meg was speaking to Campbell on the Biden Climate Summit earlier this week, bringing 40 world leaders together to address climate change. The exclusion of most Pacific Islands Forum Leaders apart from a handful including the RMI President David Kabua, Australia’s Scott Morrison, and New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern was considered a snub for former COP Chair, Fiji PM Bainimarama– who had been amongst the first to congratulate President Biden on his election win, and invited him to the Pacific.

Forum Leaders anticipating the US would return to the Paris Agreement under a Biden Presidency were not disappointed — but a statement from SG Taylor in the days following the Summit– made it clear that it did not live up to expectations for ambitious climate action towards achieving the promise of the Paris Agreement. In her statement Dame Meg Taylor had also welcomed climate targets announced by Japan, UK and Canada as well as South Korea’s commitment to end financing of coal-fired power plants overseas — but had said it was “disheartening that the urgency to act decisively to curb the global climate change emergency has not been taken favourably by other major emitters. It is also regrettable that no new climate finance commitments were made, despite developing countries being fully aware that the promised US $100 billion per year by 2020 has not been delivered”, her statement had said.

Noting the UNFCCs most recent report on National contributions to meet the 1.5 target had confirmed that the world is far from a pathway consistent with 1.5 degrees of global warming by the end of this century, the SG had called out the Outcomes of the Biden Summit, which “should have been a turning point noting the major economic powers that participated are responsible for 80% of the global emissions–the message on the ‘urgency to act’ is one that must now be taken up by all global leaders. For the Blue Pacific, and as set out in Forum Leaders’ Kainaki II Declaration for Urgent Climate Change Action Now, this is a matter of survival and cannot be downplayed”.

And Dame Meg had warned ‘the window to act to safeguard the future of our Blue planet and avoid a more catastrophic event than this current pandemic is closing fast. The COP26 meeting in Glasgow this November must deliver enhanced NDC targets and commitment to climate neutrality by 2050 to assure a resilient future for our Pacific people and all people”

Pacific Forum Leaders had made their mark with a Forum outcome in 2019, called the Kainaki Lua Declaration on Urgent Climate Change Action, Now. They had followed that up in late 2020, with a High Level Dialogue on Climate Action, inviting major global partners including many who attended the Biden Summit. Their statements from Forum troika leaders at that meeting, called for increased ambition, urgent action, climate financing for adaptation, and national actions that clearly target a net zero shift away from fossil fuels by 2050.

Keeping the focus on the Pacific this morning on the live broadcast session with the SG via Zoom Campbell said, “I want to talk about how you feel, when you watch the world’s big polluters talk about climate change, as if still, it was an abstraction, as if still, it was something a wee way off that we can address at some stage when it’s convenient, or expedient. Whereas in the South Pacific, it is a lived reality, right?”

In her response, Dame Meg said she was pleased that the US had returned to the Paris Agreement, and that the commitments by the US at the summit were “very important– but all the other bigger powers that were there, you know, all together, they produce about 80% of the carbon that goes into the atmosphere — their contributions were minimal, no change., ” she said. “Economic progress was much more important than the stability of our whole planet that we all share. ”

She said the real impact in terms of the temperatures of the planet, despite the messages of the Pacific over the years, the Paris Agreement in 2015, and the science proving threats to life at 1.5 degrees, are already at a trajectory showing the global temperature, at 1.3 degrees, will keep “going further, and then have devastating effects for the Pacific.”

Asked about the disparity between delivery and rhetoric of developed countries on climate change action, and the sense of rising frustration, SG Taylor was frank.

“I think in the Pacific, there’s been frustration for quite a while. I mean, during the previous president of the United States tenure and dismissive attitude towards the Paris Agreement– for the Pacific countries well, that was almost dismissing the issues that we’re facing me. You know, there’s a lot of discussion around mitigation, constantly. But for the Pacific, we need adaptation resources so that people can adapt to what is happening around us now. It’s not going to happen in 10 years’ time. It’s happening right now.”

Asked if anything had changed since UNSG Antonio Gutierrez visited Tuvalu and other Pacific nations, including the Time Magazine shot of him standing, suited up and knee deep in water, the Secretary General noted the efforts and advocacy from her United Nations counterpart.

“He’s just been pushing so hard for this crisis that we face, that it’s addressed,” she said, “And trying to drive the developed world to see that it’s not something that’s going to happen in the future but is happening right now, right now. “

She says the resources that are needed are bigger than throwing money at an issue.

“But it’s simply to make sure that we can adapt to what is happening around us. And there is also this notion that, well, Pacific people will just pack up and go and live somewhere else if things get so bad, and they are getting bad. But that’s not the narrative in our in the islands. Just look at the narrative that shifted in Kiribati for instance, there was once upon a time, this whole narrative about migration, and moving to other places. And yes, that’s good planning for the future if things get really, really bad. But the narrative in Kiribati is that we have been stewards of this part of the ocean for generations. And our work is to maintain our lives there and find solutions so that we can live on our atoll islands. And I think the world has an obligation to each other.”

There was no mention of the New Zealand positions and commitments during the interview.