WHAT IS COP25? With the world's first climate refugees, PNG is at the forefront of climate action

December 10, 2019

Junias Repiriri overseeing an area where re-planting of native trees has recently taken place. ©Nick, Turner/UNDP (PNG)


Op-ed by Gianluca Rampolla and Dirk Wagener

What is COP25?

COP25 is a meeting taking place now, over a two week period, in Spain where world leaders and representatives from Governments, civil society experts, youth groups, activists and the private sector are gathering to advance high level policy discussions and take immediate actions on climate change.

It is a formal meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The purpose is to assess global progress in dealing with climate change and to establish legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, stated that “climate change is no longer a long-term problem … we are confronted now with a global climate crisis.  I expect from COP25 a clear demonstration of increased ambition and commitment showing accountability, responsibility and leadership.

Why is it so important for Papua New Guinea?

Papua New Guinea is a juxtaposition of climate change news.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) whilst ranked amongst the world’s 20 most vulnerable countries to climate change is also home to the world’s third largest intact tropical rainforest, and the fifth largest intact forest overall. PNG’s forests are of truly global significance making the country a custodian of an international public good.

Climate change impacts cut across sectors, the economy and society and are already being felt in PNG.

The Carteret Islands are the first victims of rising sea levels and erratic weather patterns.  People are being displaced and they are amongst the world’s first climate refugees.

We can expect climate change will hit PNG’s fishing industry hard with up to a 30% decrease in tuna stocks in PNG’s waters. Coral bleaching and sea surface temperatures could result in a collapse in coastal fisheries. Together, this will damage much needed export dollars and threaten food security for many thousands of people.

In the Highlands Provinces, rainfall patterns will become more erratic. Flash flooding will damage crops and infrastructure. As the 2015 El Nino showed us, unexpected drought and associated frosts resulted in over 200,000 people facing increased food, water and health insecurity.

Damage to infrastructure from extreme weather events will increase losses in productivity. The costs of replacing and climate proofing future infrastructure represent substantial costs to Government and the economy.  

Increasing temperatures will spread vector borne diseases further and to new areas straining health and agricultural extension services.

Terrestrial and marine ecosystems are becoming more vulnerable with climate change. As temperatures rise and weather patterns change, ecosystems and their associated biodiversity will struggle to adapt and likely be lost forever.

Climate change will make achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and ultimately improvements to people’s lives, harder to reach.

PNG is committed to action

PNG is at the forefront of climate change negotiations. It has been committed to take action to address climate change not only through efforts to adapt and increase the resilience of its people, ecosystems and economy but also to be part of efforts to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.

PNG was the first country in the world to submit its Nationally Determined Contributions under the 2015 Paris Agreement. This built on strong domestic policies, targets and a policy platform to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Consistent with such commitments the Government is progressing action that will deliver a foundation for a more climate ready national development pathway.

Hon. Soroi Eoe, former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on behalf of the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Hon. James Marape, in his address at the 74th General Assembly of the United Nations said, “we take seriously the importance of being a party to the Paris Agreement by taking necessary measures domestically and globally.”

But PNG cannot achieve this on its own. Government action must be coordinated under a whole-of-government approach. The support of traditional development partners such as the United Nations is critical. As important will be the support of other development partners including bilateral partners, international financial institutions, civil society and the private sector. They share experiences, expertise and resources, all of which are necessary if we are to successfully address climate change.

United Nations partnership with the Government of PNG

The United Nations, as a key development partner, is providing technical and financial support to Government and the people of PNG to improve their livelihoods, boost greener economic growth and most importantly, help fight the adverse impacts of climate change. The United Nations assisted the Government develop a national approach to helping maintain and sustainably manage its forests. This has supported PNG to deliver results under the global mechanism on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

Through this partnership, the United Nations has been able to integrate climate considerations as a first principle in its development programming. This is building resilience and capacities to respond to the impacts of climate change on a range of sectors, among them agriculture, forestry, natural resource management, conservation, energy, health and education.

To support this process, the United Nations Development Programme assisted Government develop a Climate Action Roadmap. At its centre was SDG 13. The Road Map not only sets out a pathway for action but also highlights the need for an integrated approach to addressing climate change. The plan presents 30 actions that PNG should pursue to ensure it is able to not only adapt to climate change but manage it emissions while growing its economy and protecting its people. As the UN Secretary-General António Guterres has rightly stated, climate change is, “the defining threat of our time.” The United Nations recognises that climate change is everyone’s business and calls for continued action to honour commitments, such as those made under the Paris Agreement, to build the basis of sustainable growth that reduces emissions and allow PNG’s Government and its people to meet their development aspirations.


Gianluca Rampolla is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Papua New Guinea.

Dirk Wagener is the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Papua New Guinea.