By Dessima Williams, Former Ambassador of Grenada to the United Nations and Former Chair of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States in the UN climate negotiations (2009-2011), and currently a Strategic Adviser to Oxfam on climate change, on 18 May 2015.
In the wake of Cyclone Pam, ambitious climate change action is vital in 2015.
In just under 24 hours, Cyclone Pam washed away years of Vanuatu’s development progress, including over 80% of infrastructure in the capital. Tuvalu, Kiribati and other Pacific Island states faced devastation which also saw livelihoods disappear, water, food and medicines become harder to find, families facing homelessness and women forced to return to longer, harder ways of doing everything. These island nations are now left with a steep climb back to their development achievements.
Climate change is likely to be increasing the intensity of tropical cyclones, meaning we can expect more ferocious cyclones like Pam. Led by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), every credible source on climate science insists that immediate and significant action must be taken to peak and then drastically reduce carbon emissions. As a matter of justice for small islands, low lying states, other vulnerable countries and coastal areas worldwide, the urgency of action is paramount.
One of the main negotiating groups in the UN climate negotiations to which Vanuatu belongs, the Alliance of Small Island Developing States (AOSIS), has called for strong commitment to adaptation financing and a loss and damage facility. The latter is proposed as a comprehensive and integrated international mechanism of insurance, rehabilitation, compensation and risk management to address and minimize the unavoidable suffering and destruction from green house gas emissions to small island developing states (SIDS) and other vulnerable states. Operationalising these fully is a vital way to support Vanuatu and the scores of SIDS already affected by climate change.
The increase in Vanuatu’s resilience will also be built primarily on the will and capacity of its people. We have seen this in post Hurricane Ivan in Grenada in 2004 and Hurricane Emily in 2005. Grenada’s determination to “build back better” came from its people and this in turn helped mobilize international support. Every reason exists for us to have similar faith in the people of Vanuatu. In recent years the government, community and NGOs have worked together to prepare for disasters and build their resilience in the face of climate change, drawing on Vanuatu’s unique strengths. A (pre-cyclone Pam) UN program, “Markets for Change” has kicked into gear: women food growers and sellers from the village of Luganville are selling food in the market of the capital, Port Vila. The capacity of women to be economically viable while feeding the nation during a period of food shortage is an excellent foundation for re-building. But like Grenada, for people’s will and determination to be truly transformative, finance is critical.
In 2015, progress on climate finance represents an essential element of capacity building for greater resilience. Climate finance is critical for all sectors, including the informal sector, where women are most congregated and manage food and care for people. Financing their revival and sustainability is critical to resilience-building. The Green Climate Fund (which is expected to become the main channel for climate finance) must ensure that Small Island Developing States, and crucially women in those states, benefit from the initial $10 billion capitalisation of the fund.
Action on climate change, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development are all intrinsically linked. A hurricane shelter can be housed in a school building which uses solar energy. With its programs on the ground in Vanuatu and its critical role in influencing governments to end poverty and increase international climate finance globally, Oxfam worldwide has already grasped this.
Ambitious climate change action is vital in 2015. According to the IPCC the continuation of current pathways would lead to global warming higher or equal to 4*C by the end of the century. This would be completely insatiable for all countries, especially for (SIDS) and other vulnerable nations who need temperatures to stay within a 1.5*C threshold for their survival.
A new development paradigm and a climate regime are about to be adopted: the post 2015 development agenda with its Sustainable Development Goals in September, and a Paris Climate Change Agreement at the end of the year. The future we want in a post 2015 world is a future that protects and advances the wellbeing of all – the children of Paris as well as the children of Port Vila.
Photo: Andrew Roland, 42, lost his house after Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu on 13 March 2015. Andrew's family slept in the school building that night and only in the morning they saw their house blown away. Locals in Eton village lost most of their cash crops and were devastated as they had food supplies only for a few weeks. Credit: Vlad Sokhin/Panos/Oxfam