The heat is on

October 24, 2019

United Nations Day

The 24th of October has been celebrated as United Nations (UN) Day since 1948. The UN Day marks the anniversary of the entry into force in 1945 of the UN Charter. With the ratification of this founding document by most of its signatories, the UN officially came into being. The name “United Nations” was coined by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt and it was first used in the Declaration by United Nations of 1 January 1942, during the Second World War.

The United Nations has a long history in the Pacific. A year after Fiji gained independence in 1971, the first office was opened. Currently, the work of the UN in the Pacific is guided by the UN Pacific Strategy (UNPS) 2018-2022, which is a five-year strategic framework that outlines the collective response of the UN system to the development priorities in 14 Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs). These include Cook Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. The UNPS supports the 14 governments and peoples in the Pacific to advance a localized response to the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This response is tailored to each country’s national priorities, and responds to the Pacific Leaders’ call to the United Nations system to “align its work programmes and operations to support internationally agreed outcomes, including the Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in the Pacific region” (2015 GA res. 69/318).

Today, on UN Day, I have chosen to focus this article on the need to accelerate climate actions, in order to save not only our generation, but our children’s future. Indeed, we are being scolded by today’s youth about the need for urgent action! Global greenhouse gas emissions are reaching record levels and show no sign of peaking, yet they must! The last four years were the four hottest on record, and winter temperatures in the Arctic have risen on average by 3°C since 1990. Sea levels are rising, coral reefs are dying, and we are starting to see the life-threatening impact of climate change on health, through air pollution, heatwaves and risks to food security. The impacts of climate change are being felt everywhere, particularly here in the Pacific and are having very real consequences on people’s lives. Climate change is disrupting national economies, costing us dearly today and even more tomorrow. But there is a growing recognition that affordable, scalable solutions are available now that will enable us all to advance to cleaner, more resilient economies.

UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit

The UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit held last month (September) in New York, brought together world leaders and climate activists to discuss concrete, realistic plans to enhance their national climate action pledges – also called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) - by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) played a key role in supporting the Summit and helping countries to consider ambitious and accelerated climate action. Among others, UNDP, in collaboration with UN Climate Change (i.e. the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC), launched the NDC Global Outlook Report: The Heat is On. Overall, this report finds many reasons for optimism, but much work remains. It’s clear that business-as-usual simply isn’t good enough anymore. We must do more – much more – in areas related to mitigation, adaptation, and the finance to support all of this work. And we must do it quickly. Among others, the report shows that developing nations are currently the front-runners in preparations to revise plans for combatting the climate crisis over the next decade by 2020.

More than 40 Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States (SIDs) are among those at the forefront of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by indicating they will submit more ambitious national climate pledges. These nations, each accounting for less than 0.1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, are facing disruption to water and food supplies and rising sea levels, among others. Their objective is to lead by example and demonstrate that ambition can come even from the poor and most vulnerable. As an example, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), was the first nation to issue a new national climate pledge last year aimed at reducing vulnerability to storms and sea level rise while cutting the use of fossil fuels. The government says that even though RMI accounts for a miniscule 0.00001 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions it wants to show leadership since it is so exposed to storms, “king tides” and rising sea levels. RMI plans to increase coastal defenses, revise building codes to ensure new buildings are elevated and generate more electricity from local, sustainable sources including wind, biofuels made from coconut oil and solar power in a shift from imported diesel for its population of 53,000. Another example is Fiji, that is the only country from the Pacific that has completed its National Adaptation Plan (NAP), together with 12 other countries in the world. In taking concrete steps for adapting to climate change, Fiji is relocating villages from coasts that are low lying and vulnerable to inundation and erosion – starting with Vunidogoloa in Vanua Levu, in 2013.

UNDP Support for the Development and Implementation of Climate Action Plans

As the UN Deputy Secretary-General conveyed during the Climate Action Summit, three elements will be key to climate success in the coming years: Ambition, Acceleration and Mobilization. These three pillars will guide UNDP’s efforts to support progress towards the Paris Agreement - the blueprint for a zero-carbon future. As a first step, UNDP has launched its “Climate Promise” to support countries to revise and submit enhanced national climate pledges by 2020. Over the next 12 to 15 months, in line with the UN System Joint Approach on NDCs, UNDP commits to support 100 countries, including Small Island Developing States, to accelerate the enhancement of national climate pledges by 2020 and has committed US$25 million to support this effort. As an institution, UNDP is also taking responsibility for its carbon footprint and committed to being greener and more sustainable. In this spirit, a new Greening UNDP Moonshot was recently initiated with ambitious targets: reduce greenhouse gas emissions from UNDP operations 25 percent by 2025 and 50 percent by 2030, implement waste management in all UNDP premises, and, minimize the use of natural resources.

In this part of the world, the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji has provided a range of assistance related to the national climate pledges by several Pacific island countries. For instance, support was provided for the preparation of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, as well as supporting enabling activities for the implementation of Vanuatu’s NDC. In addition, UNDP here in Fiji contributed to three Regional Dialogues on NDCs for the Pacific islands as well as the development of the Pacific NDC Hub. Furthermore, with funding from the Global Environment Facility, the office supports sustainable energy projects in Nauru, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) totaling around US$20 million. These projects remove barriers for the uptake of renewable energy and improving energy efficiency, related to policy and planning, legal and regulatory frameworks, institutions, technology, etc. Moreover, they contain a technology component with various hardware demonstration projects. In the area of adaptation, PIC’s need adaptation resources commensurate with the scale of the changes we face, and right now we are far short of that goal. With that said, UNDP is working on locally appropriate adaptation responses across the Pacific. For example, in July this year the Green Climate Fund approved US$18.6 million in financing to RMI. This new project, supported by UNDP and co-financed with US$6 million from the national government, aims to secure year-round access to safe freshwater for over 15,500 people living on 24 of the most vulnerable outer atolls and island.

The race against climate change is one we can and must win. I encourage you to support your governments accelerate actions against climate change. We stand by ready to use our extensive and long-standing climate action expertise, combined with our global, regional and country presence to make this happen because the heat is on!