Climate action builds momentum in the Pacific amidst COVID-19

September 29, 2020

Samoa (Photo: UNDP)

Many countries across the globe are beginning to resurface from lockdowns and strict social distancing measures, confronting the three-dimensional effects (social, economic, and environmental) of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There have been considerable changes since the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit and UNDP’s Flagship Climate Promise event held in New York in September 2019. For one, large gatherings such as conferences seem like something of the past, although it has only been a year. This event marked the UN’s and UNDP’s journey to support 114 countries, comprising of LDCs, SIDS, and high emitting countries, to take bold action to reduce their emissions, increase their resilience to the impacts of climate change and support sustainable development priorities.

Since then, UNDP has been working closely with governments and development partners to enhance each country’s national climate action pledges – or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, through the Climate Promise. Due to the fact that climate change cannot be put on lockdown, cancelled, or postponed, UNDP has sprung into action to address two crises – the climate crisis and the global health crisis caused by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of UNDP’s global support to countries to prepare, respond, and recover from this health crisis, the Climate Promise continues to progress albeit the challenges countries are currently facing. In order to ensure that vulnerable communities are protected from current and future crises, the services and support provided by the Climate Promise have been adjusted to respond to government’s efforts to address climate action within their pandemic response. Governments are currently implementing various schemes such as green stimulus packages and longer-term investments and development plans.

UNDP’s Climate Promise in the Pacific

UNDP through its Pacific Office in Fiji is supporting several Pacific island countries (PICs) to enhance their climate pledges, or NDCs, and add new sectors, through the Climate Promise initiative. Currently, nine PICs are being supported by the Climate Promise: Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Tonga, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Vanuatu. Countries are undertaking an inclusive, nationally owned and transparent process to revise and submit enhanced NDCs. This is in addition to other key development partners, including the Pacific NDC Hub which plays a key part in supporting 15 member countries to enhance and implement their climate commitments.  

The Climate Promise is currently being carried out across six service lines, which each country determines to plan and implement activities around. The six service lines are:

  • Service line 1 focuses on building political will and societal ownership at national and sub-national levels; 
  • Service line 2 supports governments to review, align, and update existing targets, policies, and measures;
  • Service line 3 provides the opportunity to analyze and add new sectors that contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emission;
  • Service line 4 supports countries to access cost and investment opportunities to implement their climate change pledge;
  • Service line 5 focuses on monitoring the progress and strengthening the transparency process; and
  • Service line 6 enables communications, learning, and knowledge management.

Although many planned activities have been delayed, countries are moving ahead, either as planned or within a new timeline. Most recently, the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji has hired a consortium of experts to support Pacific island countries enhance and submit their NDCs. The Pacific Office completed a kick-off virtual meeting with government focal points to discuss the workplans developed by each country. The kick-off meeting took place with Tonga, Palau, and Nauru in July and, with Kiribati in August.

In Vanuatu, the Climate Promise support is ongoing. An inception workshop took place in June, and consultations continue to make headway. Niue, Cook Islands and Samoa are in the process of implementing the Climate Promise support by contracting external services.

Continuing the momentum to support climate action and delivering an effective COVID-19 response

As a direct response to the restrictions and physical distancing, UNDP’s workforce and most critical operations have almost entirely gone digital and virtual. This dramatic shift in conducting business has permitted UNDP to continue delivering services and support countries to prepare, respond and recover from the pandemic and its impacts. Pacific island countries are navigating this crisis and the social, economic and environmental impacts that comes with it, to deliver digitalized services and address issues in governance, social protection, and green and blue economy in a transparent, accountable and effective way.

This moment in time calls for not only a people and planet recovery, but for a restoration. Whether that is by designing and de-risking nature-based solutions, encouraging sustainable public private partnerships, transforming carbon intensive sectors to carbon sinks, or ensuring that there’s an integrated way of thinking and taking action to achieve the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. As vulnerable countries and their governments come under additional pressure to act, it’s now more than ever, critical to adapt to a new normal that looks beyond recovery and towards 2030.