Alliance of Small Island States’ Chairperson and Grenada’s Ambassador to the United Nations Dessima Williams in an exclusive interview with Nosh Nalavala
Nosh Nalavala: The most recent talks in Bonn showed that the 194 negotiating countries have failed to even define a common target or method for curbing greenhouse gases. Where do the negotiating countries go from here? Does Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) have a strategy for breaking this deadlock?
Ambassador Dessima Williams: Our strategy is to be prepared for progress and for lack of progress, in the sense that we are working for very ambitious, deliberate and timely outcomes. What we have done is to stress the situation of our islands and of the world. The whole world is suffering from a worsening situation in climate change. Island countries are on the forefront of global climate deterioration. Many economic and physical science studies suggest that we are in trouble. The earth is now hotter than it has ever been, and 93 percent of the warming over the past 50 years has gone into the oceans, which directly affects our coral levels, fish stock, sea-level rise and thus the security of islands. For those reasons, negotiations ought to be moving faster.
One of our main strategies is to resist a pullback based on the absence of US legislation. Many say that when “there is no US legislation, there is no commitment,” therefore they should not commit. But we got the Kyoto Protocol without the US, didn’t we?
Q: Ambassador, what are you asking for?
A: AOSIS is asking for fair international climate policy measures that are protective and supportive of small islands. First, a legal commitment that the global average rise in temperature be limited to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.
Secondly, we are asking for a level of financing commensurate with the needs of adaptation and mitigation. We acknowledge the “fast start” financing and other bilateral efforts. Fast Start is a $30 billion fund — $10 billion a year for the next 3 years, starting this year—intended to support Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and others who have already sustained damage from climate change. Three years from now there will be the longer-term funding of $100 billion until 2020. Thirdly, we are negotiating for a legal institutional framework to bind all parties in such an agreement.
Q: And where will your strategy fit in this context?
A: Everybody agrees that when we emerge from the economic downturn of 2008, we cannot use the same old pollutant technology. If we move toward a greener and climate-resilient paradigm, we will be able to resuscitate the global economy and protect the environment simultaneously.
The islands have positioned themselves in large measure as the bell weather of the global regime. Our small size highlights our vulnerability whether in climate change, global trade or the economic arena. We therefore have to make a strategic advantage out of that vulnerability. Thus linking climate change needs to our sustainable development needs is a strategic approach for SIDS, and for LDCs and Africa too.
Q: In a recent press conference, the UN Secretary General said he does not expect a resolution at the year-end Cancun Conference on Climate Change and therefore advocated taking small steps in small conferences. Are you hopeful there will be a meeting of the minds in Cancun?
A: COP-16 is a big conference that requires big outcomes. So far, there is a little progress in the negotiations, including in forestry programs and technology transfer. But we are still far from the mandate of the 2007 Bali Action Plan and from definitive agreements that would reduce carbon emissions and support islands.
That, and the failure to have legislation in the US, have encouraged some to say, “We cannot get anything definite. Therefore we should just ask or take a little bit here and a little bit there.” This is not consistent with the AOSIS mandate, which is to stick to the Bali Action Plan that calls for definitive, comprehensive and ambitious legal outcomes. But, we have to be careful. We could be on a slippery slope where we just postpone outcomes every year while climate impacts worsen. We understand incrementalism in negotiations. But the talks must move forward more rapidly. AOSIS has built a coalition of 107 countries who support a comprehensive outcome with 1.5 as an upper allowable temperature target.
Q: Have you received any financing yet for Climate Change?
A: Some Fast Start financing may be flowing to some countries, but nothing under the UNFCCC framework. On a longer term, the UN Secretary General has put together a high-level finance panel to look for sources for $100 billion. The challenge there is to have public sources of financing for adaptation and to have it ready and available in Cancun in November. Another challenge is to propose it under the UNFCCC guidelines and have it accepted as such. That could happen.
Q: AOSIS members have repeatedly indicated that small islands are at risk of rising ocean levels and have accused industrialized countries of backing away from their pledges. In that sense was Copenhagen Conference a failure and are you hopeful about the Cancun Conference?
A: Overall, islands have not made the kind of progress we should have made coming out of the 1994 Barbados Programme of Action or the MDGs themselves. Within the UN system we need a more coherent institutional response across all the departments and agencies. Secondly, SIDS ought to be in a specially designated category that will allow for policy responses appropriate for our needs, for example in seeking financing.
Interview first appeared in the UN publication THE COMMITMENT