By Pita Ligaiula at COP28 in Dubai, UAE

Australia’s Ambassador for Climate Change, Kristin Tilley, has highlighted the urgency of focusing on ocean-related climate issues and the challenges in securing the COP31 bid.

“When you started with Palau President Whipps, terrestrial-based climate responses, especially in forests, have had a head start in COP discussions for decades. Oceans are very much behind, probably by a couple of decades in the focus and discussions,” said Ambassador Tilley.

She emphasised the increasing scientific warning signs from the oceans over the last year.

Tilley pointed to rapidly rising sea levels in the Pacific, surpassing previous predictions, and the concerning increase in above-average sea surface ocean temperatures globally.

She highlighted the connection between these factors and climate change, signaling urgent warning signs for the oceans.

“These things are directly connected; they are all about climate change,” she said.

Acknowledging Pacific leadership, Tilley commended the efforts of individual nations and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) at the regional level.

She emphasised the importance of continuous discussions at the community level and supported the advocacy work taking place in the Pacific.

Responding to comments about the Pacific not being heard globally, Tilley said, “Because we hear it, and we need the rest of the world to hear it, and that’s exactly what was behind Australia putting its hands up to host COP31. We hear it, we know it, and we want the world to also hear it.”

Discussing the challenges of securing the COP31 bid, Ambassador Tilley acknowledged the difficulty in the absence of a voting process.

She outlined Australia’s commitment to a genuine partnership with the Pacific and expressed gratitude for unanimous support from all Pacific Islands Forum member countries.

Ambassador Tilley suggested oceans as a logical and obvious focus for COP31, citing the warning signs and the leadership in the Pacific.

However, she emphasised the need for consultation and a Pacific-agreed view before formalising Australia’s position.

Looking ahead, Ambassador Tilley proposed a strategic plan with key milestones over the three-year period leading up to COP31, involving CHOGM, SIDS conferences, UNGA, and the two COPs preceding COP31.

Fiji’s Ambassador to Indonesia and Lead Climate Change Negotiator, Ambassador Amena Yauvoli supported the call for collaboration.

“The challenge is to land the oceans in the climate space. We need to work together, put our differences aside, and achieve this milestone by COP31,” said Ambassador Yauvoli.