CANCC launch at SIDS side event draws major support

Apia, 3 September
A major side event to this week's SIDS conference was the launch of CANCC, the Coalition of Atoll Nations on Climate Change.
This initiative of President Anote Tong of Kiribati brings together those nations that are at the forefront of climate change damage: they are all so low-lying that there is nowhere to escape to when the sea level rises.
The launch took place through a panel that comprised, from left to right: the Environment minister of Marshall Islands, the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, the President of Kiribati, the Ulu o Tokelau, and the Environment Minister from Maldives.

This initiative of President Anote Tong of Kiribati brings together those nations that are at the forefront of climate change damage: they are all so low-lying that there is nowhere to escape to when the sea level rises.

This is something people in non-SIDS countries can find hard to understand. They may ask: “Why not move your homes further away from the sea?”, not knowing that we would then fall off our land on the other side…

“We haven’t really a good response to rising sea levels,” President Tong said. And so we need to join forces to find practicable solutions. It’s a moral question but also one that requires very concrete proposals with which we can seek help from the developed countries that caused the problem to arise.

The Prime Minister of Tuvalu echoed this sentiment by saying “We cannot over-dramatise the seriousness of our situation. All our lives we have been adapting to the environment we are in, it is the Pacific way of live. But now changes are so fast and the predictions from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) so dramatic that we must act. If not, we will have to leave our homes within the lifetime of our children. We need to seek legally binding agreements on reducing carbon emissions in an effort to stop climate change.

Our communication needs to be global, and avoid the lack of success of the Copenhagen conference (COP15 in 2009). We need to believe in the goodwill of governments to save us, but we need global communication to make our case, through CANCC.

KathyJetnil-Kijiner-300 That sentiment was backed up by the Marshall Islands Environment Minister, who urged not to just “preach to the choir” but take the message out to the world in every way possible. He illustrated this by screening a youth perspective through a video presentation of the moving poem “Tell Them” by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner of the Marshall Islands: “Tell them, we don’t want to leave. Without our islands, we are nothing.”. There were very few dry eyes in the room after watching this amazing contribution:

The Environment Minister from Maldives made it know that “atoll” was in fact a Maldives contribution to the English language. He highlighted how “graduating” from the list of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) created additional problems for SIDS, in that funds were harder to come by to mitigate climate change effects. He stated that in the Christmas 2004 tsunami, as much as 60 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) was lost in a single day. International advice for tsunami risk is to run to higher ground. But how can we do that if on atolls a coconut tree is the tallest structure, unstable to boot?

Maldives also raised the argument that climate change is a violation of human rights; and that security from it is a fundamental right. This is one of the communication stances that could be used to good effect in seeking CANCC support, he suggested.

The audience of this session comprised some key world players, the chief scientific adviser to President Obama of the United States among them. Dr John Holdren stated the USA was now playing its part in dramatically reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. The USA is actively seeking partnerships with vulnerable countries as part of its climate change action plan. Technological advances could help in raising islands or perhaps building artificial ones: if some countries can do it for leisure purposes, then it could be done for survival.

Rachel Kyte is World Bank Group vice president and special envoy for climate change. She took away three key words from her participation in SIDS, she said: (1) Resilience – not necessarily creating new initiatives, but supporting already existing ones with less red tape, for atoll countries in particular; (2) Poverty – cannot just be measured by income, but climate disaster risk is an equally important criterion; (3) Coherence – necessary not just in economic policy, but in climate change mitigation and adaptation as well.

President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, who has a very firm hand in the establishing the Coalition of Atoll Nations on Climate Change.
The Ulu o Tokelau, Aliki Faipule Kuresa Nasau while presenting the Tokelau supporting statement for participating in CANCC.

The full text of the Ulu's statement is as follows:
President Tong, honourable leaders of the Coalition of Atoll Nations on Climate Change, ladies and gentlemen. 
Tokelau supports wholeheartedly the formation of the Coalition of Atoll Nations on Climate Change. We are so pleased to be a member of a forward-looking and proactive group who are committed to advocating for immediate actions so that we can remain as viable sovereign nations.  We want to build our resilience but cannot do this in isolation. Therefore we will work together and harness our strength through our common challenges.  The low-lying atoll nations can play a significant role in spurring global action to mitigate for the impact of climate change. 
For decades now, science has revealed the bleak future the world will face if we do not reduce our greenhouse gas emissions drastically.  But this has not moved powerful and developed nations enough for them to make the necessary concessions.  Instead, those of us on the frontline are facing the consequences of inaction.  Low-lying atoll nations can no longer sit by and wait for the promised assistance that is so complicated, difficult to access and excludes some of us. 
Our people look to their leaders and point the finger at us to follow through and enact on-the-ground activities that make a difference to their reality.  The Coalition of Atoll Nations on Climate Change has been formed to fulfil this commitment to our peoples.  We propose to work together to not only give voice and face to the impact of climate change on our atolls, but also to implement practical solutions on the ground to improve the livelihood for our stricken populations. 

We need assistance for this.  We want this assistance to be free of bureaucratic constraints, easy to mobilise, with criteria that are NOT exclusive and self-serving.  We hope that others who have this same vision and can provide this assistance will join us – the Coalition of Atoll Nations on Climate Change.
Thank you.

Before presenting his statement, the Ulu drew attention to the colour of his shirt: the bright red indicated the country was on high alert 24/7. This was highlighted by several members of Team Tokelau who participated in the event.

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Members of Team Tokelau in 24/7 alert-coloured uniform (photo on right by Diane Mcfadzien)