Adaptation and mitigation strategies alone will not be enough to recover from the effects of climate change.

By George Carter, Athaulla A Rasheed

Samoa assumed a leadership role in January this year as chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the negotiating bloc for small island developing states. Samoa is well placed to elevate the experience of Pacific Islands to influence global support on climate change security, with action on “loss and damage” talks as a special focus.

AOSIS has long been instrumental across the United Nations system on the climate change and development agenda, notably in a recent Security Council climate debate.

In 1989, 14 island states met in the “Small States Conference of Sea Level Rise” and adopted the Malé Declaration for collective action against a threat to their very existence. The declaration would establish a coalition of small island states and trigger a global campaign for a treaty on climate change, ensuring that the vulnerability of small island developing states was recognised and that special support was considered for their sustainable development. Despite the many differences among these countries, group awareness of a common danger brought them together.

As a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, and in line with the Boe Declaration on Regional Security, Samoa has recognised climate change as the single greatest threat to the security, wellbeing and livelihoods of peoples in the region. This was also reflected in the Samoa Climate Change Policy and the 2018 National Security Policy. Samoa’s Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa has warned that “together we must elevate our actions with urgency to address the climate emergency, or our planet will be lost to us and to future generations.”

Incorporating climate change into the security policy requires countries to look beyond the role security forces must play in taking extraordinary steps to protect sovereignty, territorial integrity and economy.

A loss and damage scheme can help small island states with adequate financing.

For people in the Pacific, rising sea levels have threatened the physical potential for development, disrupting their livelihoods. The effects of climate change have destroyed infrastructure, dwarfed economic capacity thus increasing indebtedness, and limited access to finances required to mitigate, adapt to, and prevent coastal, water, food and health insecurity.

AOSIS has been instrumental in driving the agenda of small island developing states in the international community to ensure “to hold firm to the 1.5°C warming limit, to operationalise the loss and damage fund, and continue to create a world that is safe, fair, and equitable for all.”

The losses suffered by the Pacific Islands cannot be addressed only by fostering an ability to adapt and bounce back. There is a growing need to address the loss and damage resulting from climate change, where a “fit-for-purpose” financing arrangement could serve to close the gap once and for all.

At the COP27 global climate talks in 2022, AOSIS with the Pacific Small Island Developing States grouping successfully shaped an agenda for a loss and damage financing mechanism. Samoa was instrumental in seeing the collective experiences of the Pacific Islands adopted as part of this negotiating platform and will be well equipped to push the loss and damage agenda as a matter of regional and global urgency.

Countries such as Maldives, Seychelles and Bahamas have stressed the need for financing that reaches small island states and their local communities. Incidences of extreme weather, destroying crops and homes, as well as sea level rise inundating towns, contaminating limited freshwater resources and washing through gravesites have lasting economic effects. Adaptation and mitigation alone cannot address those economic costs, and a loss and damage scheme can help small island states with adequate financing.

Prime Minister Fiame pledged to “inject urgency into our efforts” at upcoming negotiations. The recent climate change conference in Germany, under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), set the scene for COP28 in Dubai and AOSIS prioritised “operationalising a fit-for-purpose set of funding arrangements centred on a distinct Loss and Damage Fund.”

Samoa’s leadership of AOSIS will continue the coalition’s legacy of climate action. But it important to recognise that the agenda has moved beyond adaptation and mitigation priorities – the prominence of UNFCCC talks to engage in loss and damage questions, along with the UN Security Council climate security dialogues, are pushing governments to consider the security dimensions and implications of climate change. It is critical to work on reviving and strengthening economies to assure national and regional security. This demands remedies or mechanism to address loss and damage.