When Pacific leaders joined forces last week ahead of a landmark COP26 climate summit - Tonga was not among them.
The leaders from 11 Pacific Island nations met virtually with COP26 President Alok Sharma to set out their priorities for the major climate change summit in November.
Underscoring what is at stake for the Pacific, the leaders and ministers from across the region joined a virtual dialogue hosted by the United Kingdom to outline their commitment to ramping up climate action and urge for more decisive action from the largest greenhouse gas emitters.
The UK is hosting the next United Nations climate change conference, known as COP26, in Glasgow in November. This major event will bring world leaders together to discuss and agree urgent action to tackle the climate crisis.
Matangi Tonga Online learned that all the Pacific island nations were invited to take part in the virtual dialogue with the COP26 president on July 8. However, Tonga's MEIDECC Ministry, responsible for climate change, declined to comment why Tonga did not join the dialogue.
The British High Commission in Tonga said that they understood that Tonga was planning to take part, “but the Minister had a last minute diary clash and was not able to join.”
Crucial role in framing agenda
Following the UK-Pacific Climate Dialogue on July 8, a statement from the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021 said that with Pacific countries at the frontline of the impacts of climate change – from more extreme weather to rising sea levels and coastal erosion – “the region has a unique moral authority on climate change and can play a crucial role in framing the agenda during COP26 to drive more ambitious action from the biggest emitting countries.”
Representatives from 11 Pacific Island nations had outlined the disproportionate and devastating impacts climate change – a phenomenon not of their creation – has on livelihoods across the Pacific region.
“They urged further ambitious action from developed countries around the world to curb emissions and limit global warming to 1.5°C, and called for COP26 to deliver a step-up in finance for Small Island Developing States both in mitigation and adaptation action.
They also underlined the importance of ocean issues in climate negotiations.
COP26 President-Designate, Alok Sharma, said: “The discussions we have had today set important foundations for Glasgow, as we move toward building agreements that work for everyone, particularly those most affected by climate change.
“Pacific islands are at the forefront of a crisis they did next to nothing to cause, with a temperature rise above 1.5°C presenting an existential threat to their future. Many are showing real leadership on tackling climate change. The G20 and other major emitters now have a moral responsibility to follow this example, and that of the G7, by taking urgent action to keep 1.5°C alive.”
Declare a climate emergency
Climate activist and youth leader from the Solomon Islands, Gladys Habu, also joined the dialogue to urge countries to step up action.
She said: “My only request is that each respective Pacific island country must prioritise the climate crisis by declaring it a climate emergency. This declaration will be symbolic of your national commitment to my generation ...we are at risk of losing everything.”
UK Pacific Climate Dialogue was hosted by the UK Government in collaboration with Wilton Park and CROP – a COP-focused group of Pacific regional agencies.
Countries present were:
- United Kingdom – COP26 President-Delegate Alok Sharma
- Fiji – Prime Minister, Hon. Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama
- Federated States of Micronesia – President, HE David W Panuelo
- Palau – President, HE Surangel Whipps Jr
- Tuvalu – Prime Minister, Hon. Kausea Navtano
- Niue – Premier, Hon. Dalton Tagelagi
- Republic of Marshall Islands – Acting President, HE Christopher J Loeak
- Cook Islands – Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Honourable Tingika Elikana
- Solomon Islands – Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Jeremiah Manele
- Vanuatu – Minister for Climate Change, Hon. Bruno Leingkone Tau
- Nauru – Minister for Climate Change and National Resilience, Rennier Gadabu
- Samoa – Chief Executive Officer, Ministry for Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Peseta Noumea Simi.
UK's Presidency Programme for COP26
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Hon. Rev. Dr Pohiva Tu'ionetoa has been invited to join the World Leaders Summit on November 1-2 at the start of a two weeks programme for the 26th Conference of the Parties Climate summit (COP26).
The UK’s Presidency Programme for COP26 to drive forward climate ambition and action against key issues will run alongside the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) formal negotiations which will focus on the remaining aspects of the Paris Agreement.
The four key goals are mitigation; adaptation; finance; collaboration.
- with reporting by Mary Lyn Fonua