Pacific Nations challenging the dialogue on Climate Change at COP24

In 2018 in Katowice, Poland, world leaders assembled again to collectively decide on solutions to create a more resilient sustainable world.

Opening the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 24th Conference of Parties (COP24) on 3 December, 2018, renowned nature broadcaster Sir David Attenborough urged world leaders and decision-makers to “pledge to give every person in the world, a voice on its future” and to make “a promise to help the weakest and the strongest from war, famine and other man-made disasters”.

Climate action was at the forefront of discussions among many developing and developed countries, including climate finance for adaptation and mitigation actions.

Pacific climate change experience

On the frontlines of climate change are the low-lying coastal regions of the world, primarily Pacific Island nations.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga painted the reality for vulnerable island communities, including his own, when he recently said to an audience in Canberra that “It is very evident that climate change represents the single greatest threat to the livelihoods of the people living on low-lying, vulnerable countries; their security, long-term sustainability and well-being." 

In addition to the slow creep of sea level rise, Pacific island nations are also facing increased intensity of natural disaster events due to a changing climate.

For example, Vauatu has, for the second year running been listing in the the WorldRiskIndex as the country most at risk from natural disasters. In 2015, Vanuatu experienced one of the worst tropical cyclones, displacing an estimate of 65,000 people and destroying 80 per cent of large-scale crops and livelihoods. Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through 90 per cent of their infrastructure, and according to the Government of Vanuatu’s Vanuatu Post Disaster Needs Assessment Report, the estimated damage and loss was $48.6 billion vatu ($US449.4 million) .

Three years later, the people of Vanuatu continue efforts to rebuild and repair resilient communities without losing their traditional knowledge and livelihoods.

They recognise what is happening around them and strive to change the dialogue by leading the way of climate initiatives. Vanuatu plans to be 100 per cent renewable by 2030 and questions, “why can’t others do the same?”

IPCC and Pacific call for action and finance

Among the many discussions held in Katowice was the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on global warming of 1.5C, which highlighted the need for climate action on a global scale. The report highlighted with great urgency a carbon countdown of 12 years before substantial consequences would kick in, including stronger storms, extended droughts, floods and erratic weather events.

The report warned of what is to be expected if emissions continue to rise but change is not possible without collective immediate action. Dr Hoesung Lee, chairman of IPCC, said there were clear benefits in limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.

“The report shows that action - urgent action - is needed. The latest scientific knowledge shows that limiting global warming to 1.5C is not impossible but would require unprecedented action from all society,” Dr Lee told diplomats at COP 24 on 11 December.

Pacific nations are leading the way for climate action. They are calling for collective action, addressing climate finance, adaptation and transparency on adaptation and mitigation.

Vanuatu’s Minister for Foreign Affairs International Cooperation and External Trade, Ralph Regenvanu, stated the dangers of watering down the effects of climate change.

 “We see there is not enough commitment to the mechanism that was agreed to in Paris to provide finance for countries like Vanuatu, not only for mitigation and adaptation but for loss of damage,” Mr Regenvanu said in an interview with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) on 10 December.

One such mechanism is the Green Climate Fund (GCF) legal frameworks and partnerships. One of the three foundations includes ‘readiness programmes’ and research projects in the Pacific.

One of these programmes is the GCF co-funded Pacific Island Renewable Energy Investment Program, supported by the Asian Development Bank which will assist Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga in achieving 100 per cent renewable energy.

Off the back of the call to action in the IPCC Special Report, the GCF has stated a real demand for climate finance. The GCF has stated that they are “Well positioned to deliver these critical interventions, but can only do so with the proper resources.”

During COP24 a number of countries made additional commitments to provide financial support for the low-carbon transition. Germany led developed countries by doubling its commitment to the replenishment of the Green Climate Fund (GCF). 2019 will be a critical year for the GCF as it seeks to expand its support from developed partners. 

The importance of traditional knowledge and connectivity

Traditional knowledge is an important part of Pacific identity. For thousands of years, Pacific Islanders have curated years of traditional knowledge passed down through generations and this practice created a deep relationship and application for the land and sea. It is important that this traditional knowledge is used for climate adaptation and mitigtation.

To connect their strong community to the ongoing discussions around COP24, Pacific communities have adopted hashtags #ResilientPacific #BluePacific and #SaveOurOcean as a link for the people of the Pacific to the UNFCCC.

Where to from here?

When it comes to the fight against climate change, the message is loud and clear:

If Small Island Developing States can focus on renewables, use traditional knowledge to create a more sustainable life while adapting to modern sciences, and smile in the face of natural disasters, why can’t other countries do the same?  In the words of the COP23 President and Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama:

 “We are all in the same canoe and it is time to sail that canoe into a safe harbour.”

This climate change reporting exercise overseen by the USP Journalism Programme is part of the Pacific iCLIM Project - Phase 2. It involves four student journalists from USP and Griffith University. The Pacific iCLIM Project is a partnership project between Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and Griffith University, funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The Project aims to enable better climate change resilience and adaptation planning in the Pacific by improving the discoverability, storage, access, and utilisation of climate change data and information.


Isabella Cheng is a journalist at Griffith University, Nathan Campus. A strong advocate for environmental and social justice, Cheng believes it is imperative to connect and inform the general public about our climate. Cheng was the former president for Griffith University Students for the Environment and received an award for their efforts to connect and teach students about the environment.