Pacific’s new Ministerial Champion for Loss and Damage articulates vision

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The Pacific’s new Ministerial Champion for Loss and Damage (L&D), Ralph Regenvanu, has lamented what he’s described as “woefully insufficient” levels of climate change adaptation in Pacific countries.

He has placed the blame squarely on decades of marginalisation and delayed action on the part of “historical emitting rich countries” and the absence of finance for loss and damage.

Regenvanu, the Minister for Climate Change of the Republic of Vanuatu, who takes over the role of Political Champion for Loss and Damage from Tuvalu’s Minister of Finance, Seve Paeniu, made the point during the opening session of the first Pacific Loss and Damage Dialogue in Samoa.

Hosted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in partnership with Climate Analytics from 17 – 19 July 2023, the Dialogue brings together government, civil society, academia, NGOs and the private sector to discuss their experiences of climate change-induced loss and damage and options for addressing loss and damage in the region.

“Science has been clear, for decades, that action is still unacceptably slow and shallow,” said Regenvanu.

“The political denigration of climate science was on full display at the UN Climate Negotiations in Germany last month, as Parties refused to acknowledge that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the IPCC’s AR6 Report is the most comprehensive and robust assessment of climate change that we have, and that we must act on its messages to limit warming to 1.5°C.

“This result of inaction is climate harm to those not responsible; climate suffering that is being experienced right now by every community, household and person in the Pacific islands.”

In Vanuatu, the Minister said loss and damage is a lived reality. A few months ago, Vanuatu was hit by two Category 4 Cyclones within three days. It forced the declaration of a State of Emergency for the Pacific nation.

“This is unjust as we are not responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing this crisis,” he said. “Friends, today loss and damage is not just a Pacific problem. What we are experiencing now, and have faced for many years, we see the rest of the world beginning to feel.

“We empathise deeply with the people of Canada as their entire nation burns with wildfire, we empathise with Europe, the U.S and Asia as crippling heat-waves kill elderly and the poor, we empathise with the people of Italy and Korea as flooding over the last week has destroyed homes and taken lives. This is the reality of loss and damage, in the Global North and South, in the rich and poor countries, and I hope that the world has sufficient collective courage to turn this canoe around.”

Regenvanu welcomes his appointment as the Pacific’s Political Champion for Loss and Damage, noting Vanuatu’s historical involvement in the journey.

He recalled that discussions on the issue began in the 1990s when Vanuatu, as co-founding chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), first made the call for the climate convention to provide finance to address loss and damage from sea level rise.

“Those pleas went on deaf ears,” he said. “The COP in 2013 finally, after an intense battle led by the Pacific, established the Warsaw International Mechanism, supposedly to address loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change, including extreme events and slow onset events, in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. But after little more than a few meetings of an actionless executive committee, we realized this was not the breakthrough we so urgently needed.”

Many years later, at COP27 in Egypt in 2022, a decision was made to establish new Loss and Damage Fund and funding arrangements.

“This pace must change, and this will change,” he said, outlining his vision to the role.

“I commit to basing our Loss and Damage positions on science and on the moral authority we hold as a particularly vulnerable region that is already suffering the worst impacts. I commit to working within the AOSIS block to strengthen and uphold its positions, and to maintain a “do no harm” approach to try and ensure strength and unity with our strategic allies in the G77 + China Group,” he said.

“I commit to working constructively with those Parties in the global north that have already committed loss and damage funding and are meaningfully looking for practical solutions, including Scotland, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Canada and others. But I also commit to calling out historical failures to mobilise adequate action and support for mitigation and adaptation, and to link loss and damage directly to fossil fuel expansion and other destructive environmental misbehaviour.”

But he also called on all Pacific countries for help, especially on leaders to articulate needs and solutions in a consistent and impactful way.

“Whether you are supporting your Ministers and Leaders in UNFCCC activities, in conversations with bilateral donors, in Parliamentary debates, or in global development dialogues, I request that you include references and explicit language on our loss and damage finance needs and proposals. If this messaging is clear and consistent, our Pacific voices will be heard around the world, and motivate a shift in our negotiating partners,” he said.

“A second area of action that I request of you is to think and plan deeply for loss and damage solutions at the national level. When the question arises “what will you spend loss and damage money on in your country?”, I want each and every one of us to have a long and detailed answer ready. What are the concrete gaps you face, and how do you propose to fill them?

“The final request I have of you is to work in a partnership approach. Loss and Damage is simply too big for just negotiators to handle. I would like you to reach across the Silos and find the Loss and Damage champions in your government sectors, in the local and regional civil society, with all CROP agency contacts, with your donors, the regions academics and your private sector entities.

“Bring them into this space so they too “own” the loss and damage issue. Make sure they make it onto national delegations, and give them a voice however you can. And that voice must speak as one united Pacific.

“Together we will force a transformative shift on Loss and Damage at COP28, together we will begin to see relief flowing to our island families to address the climate suffering they face,” he said.

SOURCE: SPREP/PACNEWS