What the Paris Agreement means for Tokelau and CANCC

Tokelau’s future sustainable and climate resilience development will highly depend on the actions of the global community. The Paris Agreement puts all nations on a new transformative global climate governance path. Its goal is to pursue effective decarbonisation of the world’s economies while at the same time build local resilience systems and sectors to climate shocks over the coming decades. The proposed pathway will have major implications for future development trajectories of not only Tokelau but all other Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs). 

Increasing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) from human activities over the last few centuries is the main causal factor in global warming and its impacts today. This is the consensus reached by some 97 per cent of climate scientists, according to many studies to date. This was accepted by the international community in 2013.

As a result of the increased concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere, changes to the climate system has resulted in impacts such as sea level rise, heat waves, disease outbreaks, water scarcity, and increase in intensity and frequency of extreme weather and climate events.
These impacts are affecting Pacific small island countries and territories like Tokelau who have minute emissions, instead of the countries with advanced (historically) and large emerging (in recent decades) market economies that caused the problem. This is the injustice at play but with carbon dioxide concentrations reaching the danger ‘400 parts per million’ level last month, every country, big or small, need to act.

Tokelau knows the reality well. Its future survival is dependent on the actions of other governments, especially the actions of those in advanced and large emerging market economies who are also the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.  But Tokelau has embraced the situation and is doing what it can to help itself; and at the same time urging the world to act now, to reduce and stop GHG emissions for the sake of humanity.
Hazelwood-Australia-450 It is not too late, according to one of the climate scientists at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), but time is of the essence.

“[Emissions reduction] can be achieved through personal actions, national actions, and global actions which is where the Paris meeting comes in,” Professor James Renwick told the Pacific regional conference on climate change hosted by VUW in February 2016.

Global solidarity is the reason why the Paris Agreement adopted by all 195 nations at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in December 2015 was hailed a success. Firstly, by everyone agreeing to reduce their GHG emissions, it eliminated the excuse for inaction out of fear of inaction by others – the “free riders”.
Secondly, the key message all countries committed to is a timetable to stop using fossil fuels – this ‘weaning the world off fossil fuels’ is called decarbonization.

However, because fossil fuels, especially oil and coal, are absolutely essential in the global economy today, it is not going to happen overnight, nor will it be easy to transition.

Collectively there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of laws and regulations worldwide that will need to be made and enacted to reduce the demand for fossil fuels; and transition to cleaner energy systems.

And with the world a more interconnected and interdependent place, markets and multi-government policies are increasingly likely to play significant roles in the adoption of various technologies, from wind and solar to new designs of nuclear power plants.

To move forward, strong leadership is needed. So far, there is optimism from Tokelau and Coalition of Atoll Nations on Climate Change (CANCC) that leaders of the world’s powerful nations are walking the talk from Paris.

Last week in Japan, leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and United States collectively known as the G7 wrote in a joint declaration of their determination to “accelerate our work towards the transition to an energy system that enables a decarbonization of the global economy.” To that end, they agreed to stop subsidies for fossil fuels by 2025.

They emphasized taking action to get the Paris Agreement ratified or accepted as quickly as possible. And highlighted transitioning their economies to clean energy as crucial to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. This is emphasized by their pledge to phase out fossil fuels by this century.

In their declaration, G7 leaders said, “Given the fact that energy production and use account for around two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions, we recognize the crucial role that the energy sector has to play in combating climate change.”

The Paris Agreement is unique for its inclusiveness, its transparency requirements, and the fact that each country will own and be held accountable for their individual climate targets. All United Nations members are automatically members of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - as a territory, Tokelau is unfortunately not one of them..

But the Agreement has deep implications for development trajectories of all PICTs, especially the low-lying unes united under the Coalition of Atoll Nations on Climate Change (CANCC). The implications include sustainable development goals, adaptation and resilience, energy systems, agriculture and related food systems, potential sources of finance, transport, locked-in loss and damage.
At the signing ceremony on 22nd April 2016, then UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres called for urgency to implement the Paris Agreement and transition to low-carbon growth. She emphasised that either the world becomes more resilient in the next five years, or it will be too late.

In view of this, it is pertinent to reflect on the Paris Agreement and gauge what it means for Pacific island interests, through Tokelau’s situation.

For Tokelau, the biggest climate change challenges are:
  • ‘extreme events’ (floods, storms, cyclones, droughts, etc.) rather than an increase in temperature alone; and
  • Sea level rise, ocean acidification and likely impacts of policies and measures (PAMS) to address climate change (e.g. trade and economic policies such as price of carbon on fossil fuels).
It means that Tokelau urgently needs to prepare a realistic climate change strategy aimed at integrating its climate change programmes into a coherent, strategic, comprehensive and realistic blueprint that would be aligned to the Paris

Agreement and UNFCCC negotiations process
The strategy goal would be to enhance the resilience of Tokelau to climate change and related challenges.

To that end, the Tokelau Climate Change team have already started work towards developing the strategy to facilitate and guide a “whole of government and community response” to climate change.

The Living with Change: Enhancing the resilience of Tokelau to climate and related hazards (LivC) is Tokelau’s attempt to assist itself and in line with the international community’s collective response to address climate change.

Contributed by Lealaiauloto Aigaletaule’ale’a Tauafiafi and Penehuro Lefale