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  • John McDonnell

There’s more to Glasgow than targets

The Fijian delegation to the Glasgow climate talks will be singing for compensation, John McDonnell writes

On Monday evening my daughter took off for Glasgow, where she will be attending the COP 26 climate conference. She is actually part of the Fiji delegation but in that capacity, she will be leading the negotiations on the behalf of the small island states who are demanding compensation from the developed countries.

They are trying to get access to a special fund set up under the Paris Agreement to compensate developing countries for loss and damage due to extreme weather events which have resulted from global warming.

At the last round of negotiations, which took place two years ago in Madrid, the developed countries opposed any moves for compensation for loss and damage. At that time the Caribbean countries had not suffered unduly from extreme weather and were reluctant to take on the US, which was their main source of foreign income. Since then, they have been battered by a series of hurricanes and their attitude has changed.

Logistics make it hard for the small delegations in Glasgow. Unlike the bigger countries who can afford expensive accommodation in the centre of town, the Fiji delegation had to settle for a hotel that is an hour away from Glasgow by train. Since negotiations often go on until well after midnight and start at around seven in the morning for the key negotiators, they have to contend with a lack of sleep and decent food.

Apart from this, the main threat to a reasonable outcome for the small island states, is the fact much of the resources of the bigger countries is now being diverted into achieving drastic targets for emission reductions by 2030.

The host country, the United Kingdom, has announced that it will be cutting emissions by 68 per cent by 2030. The cost of this has been modelled by the UK Treasury, which predicts that it will require a substantial increase in taxes and reduce Britain’s standard of living by 15 per cent by 2030. The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, disagrees with the 2030 target and has refused to fund it, because it will damage Britain’s fiscal position.

Other developed countries are suffering severe economic downturns as a result of the Covid19 pandemic and see the rebuilding of their own economies as a priority.

In the meantime, small island countries are also contending with Covid19 while struggling to rebuild devastated communities with many people homeless and food sources destroyed.

Fortunately, Australia has been able to help our Pacific neighbours through the supply of vaccine and the Pacific workers visa scheme that as enabled a number of them to earn foreign exchange.

This has helped partially offset the loss of tourism earnings that has resulted from the ban on Australian overseas travel during the pandemic.

But the Pacific Islands need to be substantially rebuilt to increase their resilience to extreme weather events. This entails more than just more robust dwellings, it means augmenting health infrastructure, building better roads and increasing flood protection. The last of these is particularly important because it protects the capacity of these communities to feed themselves.

At previous climate meetings Australia has tended to stick with the developed country group and not take a prominent role in negotiations with small island states. Perhaps on this occasion Scott Morrison could join with his Pacific Island Forum friends and back their demands for compensation for loss and damage.


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