The Warsaw Climate Change Conference, opened on 11 November, has entered into its second week of negotiations, scheduled to close on 22 November.
The meetings in Warsaw can best be described as contentious and in particular the groups of small islands nations and their allies demand for financial compensation over the damages caused by the uninhibited output of greenhouse gases from the so called developed world in the past vis a vis the natural disaster, rising ocean temperatures and rising ocean levels of the present, which are of course a direct threat to the very survival of small island nations, had a tough time to make their positions heard. In fact, Munjural Khan, spokesperson for the LDC (Least Developed Countries Group) made it plain that they had now drawn a line in the proverbial sand and were ready to even walk out of the talks if their demands were not finally addressed by the biggest polluters, both past and present.
When at the start of the just concluded Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka HRH The Prince of Wales recognized Seychelles President James Alix Michel for the groundbreaking environmental policies his government had not just formulated but implemented – just over half of the archipelago is now dedicated to the protection of nature, bird and marine life, the world of President Michel was for a short while in order. Past concerns expressed, in fact specific concerns first expressed by him about the growing threat of climate change and rising sea levels and the threat to his country and a number of other small island nations, were for the duration of the announcement pushed into the background even though both Prince Charles and President Michel made mention to it in their speeches.
Wherever President Michel in recent years went on State Visits, one topic always appeared on his agenda, to step up the fight against climate change and to commit to measurable reductions of CO2 emissions, a reversal of deforestation, increased protection of the seas – in line with his own vision of eventually merging the blue and the green economy – and agree on such measures NOW and not when natural disasters like the recent typhoon in the Philippines have become commonplace.
Ahead of the latest round of UN Climate Talks in Warsaw / Poland, commonly referred to as COP 19 – indicating this is the 19th such global meeting – many had harboured hopes that the recent devastating storm in the Philippines, still fresh in the delegates’ minds, and other natural disasters since COP 18, would finally bring a change in the hardline positions of both developed and threshold countries. However, the announcement by Japan that they would suspend their own targets was not just a blow to such hope but also opened the door to in particular the BRICS countries to dig in and peddle their right to ‘progress and development’ in apparent total disregard to the impact their own CO2 output would add to the world’s climate woes, and many have pointed their fingers to China, now already responsible for a fifth of the overall global emissions.
It is in this context that while recently in the Seychelles, and when opportunity arose to cover two functions at State House Victoria – one in fact related to the Sustainable Energy Exhibition undertaken by the Reunion delegation to the Festival Kreol – I was able to leave some questions with President Michel’s Chief Press Secretary Srdjana Janosevic. President Michel, with COP 19 underway, now responded to these questions as follows:
‘Climate change is here. We cannot ignore it. We see its effects all around us and if we do nothing it will just get worse with time. We should not just look at who is to blame, we are beyond the point where we need to point a finger. We all know who is to blame, it is clear but those very countries who pollute the earth at the greatest rate, they are the same ones who we should work with to find solutions to mitigate the problems.
Small island states are the first to be affected by climate change, and we need funds to mitigate the effects of this threat. I am disappointed to see the lack of commitment by industrialized countries to establish a financing mechanism for this mitigation. Too many are interested only in their immediate economic interests, they need to look beyond, to look towards the future and protect our planet, which is our only home.
We are also a member of the Alliance for Small Islands States and we are working hard to bring to the attention of the global community, the threats that we face, as islands, from climate change. As islands, we can lead the fight against climate change, we can lobby and speak as one voice to address this threat, and we need to do it now, because if we wait for too long, if we comprise, we will forsake the future of our children.
It is our human right to exist as island states, we need to fight for this right, it is a question of our survival. We have started to introduce renewable energy in Seychelles, through wind power and solar power, and this is also a way for island states to show that we can be a model for sustainable, clean energy growth.
[But] it is not just islands that are affected by climate change. Every continent will see the effects of climate change, and if we don’t do something now, all that we will be left with are new wars over water and arable land, and floods will devastate us, with climate refugees becoming a daily reality.
We must act now, we must all be responsible for the future of our planet’.
President Michel, with his responses, hit the nail on the head of course and yet have countries, led by the United States and among them Canada as well as Australia which new government seems to be trampling the accomplishments of previous governments into the proverbial dust apparently refused to have the issue of a 100 billion US Dollar fund to help least developed countries and small island nations to mitigate climate change put on the Agenda of the 2015 Paris Meeting. This ‘Loss and Damage’ mechanism however is a key demand by those most affected from the fallout of climate change, devastating storms, rising ocean temperatures which affect marine life and the vital fishing industry and rising sea levels which could by mid of this century already swallow up low laying island in the Maldives and the South Pacific and flood the some of the most heavily populated parts of Bangladesh displacing tens of millions of people.
A regular tourism source in the Seychelles put his own spin to it when discussing President Michel’s response when he wrote: ‘This has been at the very heart of our President’s agenda, to find ways and means to build a global coalition and mitigate the changes we already experience. When the high and mighty and the rich and famous come to our islands, they come for our intact environment, the pristine white beaches made of powder fine sand and for the crystal clear waters surrounding our islands. What we are trying to do is to show them what we have now and also let them know how big the threats are for exactly those attributes which make us so attractive to visit now. We are in the process of making La Digue an energy self sufficient island, where in the future the entire electric energy needs will be met through renewable energy sources. In a few years the cars will be gone from La Digue, replaced by electric carts which will be recharged through solar power sources. On Mahe we now have the first wind power plants which you see when you fly into our airport and we are working to reduce energy consumption through the use of energy saving equipment. The use of solar powered hot water production will soon be made mandatory and the Seychelles also promotes the use of solar energy panels for private households. Some of our smaller islands are already 100 percent on renewable energy sources, so you can see we in the Seychelles are playing our part to reduce emissions. It is part of our success story in tourism that we protect our environment and are seen as one of the greenest countries on earth’.
What is clear, and no amount of denials from the global powers that be can change that, climate change is here and climate change is real and the fallout we see today, the devastating storms lashing coastal strips and island nations, the floods and the droughts, the shrinking of Africa’s glaciers on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Kenya and the Mountains of the Moon are all but harbingers of things to come, and things a lot worse than what we see happening today, unless the leaders of this world, the leaders to the selfstyled great and big nations, can learn to listen to the leaders of the smaller nations, the leaders from small island states like the Seychelles which, if nothing is done, may well be partly or entirely wiped out and submerged as the decades of the 21st century advance. Watch this space.