Climate change doesn’t get any realer than this

Photo: King Tides lapping at the doorstep in Funafuti Island, Tuvalu

By Sima Enele

Here we go: it’s the final stretch on the road to Paris. Tensions are high, blood pressure readings are high (mainly due to the excess coffee), heads are spinning in the spinoff groups, and delegates are frantically trying to find common ground.

As the AOSIS Climate Change Fellow from Tuvalu, and novice delegate, the pace of the talks and the stakes involved never cease to amaze me.

At the most recent climate negotiations in Bonn, I followed the Loss and Damage line of discussions, a proposal that would help vulnerable countries manage climate impacts that go beyond adaptation, such as ocean acidification and sea level rise. This area is constantly evolving and at times can be very contentious.

For small islands states like Tuvalu the issue is very real. To be sure, Cyclone Pam, which recently caused extensive damage in Vanuatu and other Pacific islands, including my country, underscores just how vulnerable we are. In fact, the sea level keeps creeping up in the Pacific year after year—4 mm per annum by some estimates. My six-year-old cousin now describes the “natural swimming pool” around our house that accompanies the seasonal King Tides.

But while many of our partners recognize the problem, they have expressed concerns over their ability to gain acceptance for the concept in their national legislatures, particularly as it relates to issues of “compensation” and “unlimited liability”.

Developing countries and small islands have attempted to bridge this gap by removing text referring to compensation and to specifically focus on establishing a permanent mechanism that will build on previous work done by the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM) that was established in 2013. One of the major products we are looking for is the establishment of a international facility to help vulnerable and poor populations impacted by catastrophic climate events recover and relocate if necessary.

There has been qualified support for this, but partners would rather see it in a non-binding “decision” than as a central part of the Paris agreement.

Resolving the issue will undoubtedly be one of the sticking points next month and if the recent Bonn meeting is any indication, it will go right down to the wire.

But even as a novice in the process it is abundantly clear to me that if we are to make any progress as an international community we will have to understand each other’s interests and find a compromise that supports them both.

Sima Enele is Tuvalu’s climate change fellow. The AOSIS climate change fellowship program is funded by the European Union to build capacity within small island nations. The fellows are based in their respective New York missions and attend all UNFCCC sessions following a specific issue in the negotiations.