Small islands are blue guardians of the future

Small islands are blue guardians of the future

The Commitment: Special Climate Change Issue

Small islands are blue guardians of the future.

The Commitment interviews Mr. Ronald Jean Jumeau, Ambassador for Climate Change and Small Island Developing State Issues of the Republic of Seychelles to the UN.

The Commitment: What outcome do you expect from the Climate Summit in Paris this December?


Ambassador Ronald Jean Jumeau: Small island developing states (SIDS) or Large Ocean States as we are often now more accurately referred to, have a lot to lose from a weak agreement in Paris. The shadow of Copenhagen continues to weigh heavily as December’s climate conference in Paris looms closer. The desire for a strong outcome in Paris is more than just about fairness for us islanders, it’s about survival.

While we should indeed focus on the dangers of settling for the ‘lowest common denominator’ in Paris, as an international community and affected citizens we must look further. Climate change will not stop in Paris; it will continue to be shifted and moved by the actions of us all, and we must be bold and ambitious in pre-empting this far beyond the agreement that we reach.

The issue of Loss and Damage, long pushed by the SIDS, is another prime example. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and other most vulnerable countries continue to call for this issue to be an aspect of the Paris agreement, but it cannot stop there. Even with the most ambitious agreement in December, the effects of loss and damage will continue to have global ripples for the foreseeable future and be a serious impediment to sustainable development and basic human rights.

Take the example of the Pacific SIDS Vanuatu; its remoteness and the region’s high risk of disasters exacerbates existing vulnerabilities. This beautiful and culturally rich nation lies at the epicenter of our climate change decisions. The security of our people, the interconnectedness of our nations and the health of our island states are as dependent on the choices of its own people as on the actions made by those across the rest of the world. We all have a choice to contribute or to challenge the foundations that build or disempower fragile environments. COP21 offers a choice to strengthen our resolve and our planet; it is up to us all to choose to make that choice and to make it wisely

Children playing on a small boat.

Children playing on a small boat, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Steven Nowakowski, New Zealand MFAT

TC: What are your specific expectations? Do you foresee a binding agreement?

RJJ: The hope is, of course, for an ambitious and binding agreement. For an agreement that prioritizes addressing vulnerability, a thorough consideration of the financial requirements of promises made and both international and national commitments to realizing the agreement. However, it is important to learn the lessons from Copenhagen. What we must focus on is not ‘a binding agreement’, but the right agreement. Agreeing to a text that is exclusive or does not consider the needs of vulnerable groups is unacceptable.

We must realise the power of our voices: we are Small island developing states and Large Ocean States at the same time and our voices must be heard. While not an expectation, my hope is for countries to stand up for the future we all want. We have the facts of what will happen if we don’t act, now it’s the time for us to decide what part we want to play in our future.

TC: How are SIDS positioning themselves on the road to the Paris agreement in concert with the launch of the post-2015 sustainable development process?

RJJ: On mitigation, SIDS stand firm on 1.5 degrees. Moving towards Paris, the pressure to adopt 2 degrees in the text heightens; however we know what this means. The .5-degree difference may not sound like much, but it will change the entire face of our planet.  As Large Ocean States we know this, because we have already seen the damage that inaction has on our land, on our borders and through the biodiversity in our oceans. Just as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted a standalone goal on the oceans, we hope to see our Blue Economy and Blue values mainstreamed through the logic, rhetoric and action of the outcome text of COP21.

On adaptation, the fundamental importance of technical assistance, technology transfer and capacity building to the pursuit of sustainable development must not be underestimated. SIDS continue to drive forwards the concept of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities, respect for the capabilities of others and to push for tangible and achievable nationally driven indicators towards progress. We are all part of a global partnership when it comes to both adaptation, mitigation and loss and damage and unless we work together towards global solutions — we will inevitably all suffer, with the most vulnerable being hit first.

SIDS are already taking steps towards adaptation and mitigation. Most of us have ambitious renewable energy and energy efficiency plans and targets, and have submitted our Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

Seychelles is currently finalising a US$30 million debt-for-adaptation swap with the Paris Club and South Africa to conserve 30 percent of our 1.37-million-square-kilometre exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as marine protected areas and ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change. The initiative is debt relief, innovative financing for sustainable development, implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs (especially SDG 14), strengthening of ocean resilience, conservation and protection of the ocean, and tackling climate change all in one package!

Seychelles. Photo: David Stanley, Flickr

SIDS are least responsible for, but most vulnerable to climate change, yet we lead from the front in taking action to show that all people and states have a part to play in shaping the future we want. However, we must also remember that we will fail in this if we do not also focus on how the various post-2015 processes can work together beyond Paris. All these processes are connected; there cannot be sustainable development without a drastic reworking of how we tackle climate change. Many disasters, for example, have roots and repercussions affiliated with climate volatility.

This is a year of global change, and it is a year we can strive for more. There is more to this year than ‘simply’ launching the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the SDGs and finding a solution to what Stern deems the ‘brutal arithmetic’ of climate change. As an interconnected world built on the dedication and drive of individuals for a future we can be proud of, it is up to us.

TC: Do you feel that instead of relying on fossil fuel imports, renewable technologies will make SIDS more sustainable? And will this factor be highlighted at the Climate Summit?

RJJ: Absolutely.  In fact, it is an untold story that the SIDS have emerged as world leaders in renewable energy and energy efficiency through their SIDS DOCK (sidsdock.org) initiative. The key to this transition is resilience and innovation. Out of small islands come big ideas, I always say, and it is from this creativity to create sustainable, low-carbon energy and economies that a shift away from fossil fuel imports is already taking place. Indeed, SIDS are often an innovator in this field.

For Seychelles, with 3,000 times as much sea territory as land area, ocean energy would have been our first and most obvious choice if it was not the least developed source of renewable energy for the time being. Last year we launched our first wind farm, however putting it out at sea would have resulted in us having fewer turbines for the same amount of investment.  So we set it up on an uninhabited artificial island that we had reclaimed from the sea for other development purposes as we ran out of flat coastal land to build on. The turbines are around the edges of the island and our next step is to fill the interior with solar PV panels, thus creating one of the first, if not the first, island entirely dedicated to producing energy from renewable sources.  How symbolic it will be of the SIDS’ accelerating transition to renewable energy and low-carbon economies.

Transitioning to a network of locally run sustainable energy is not only wise for the sake of our planet, but is economically sensible in our current global climate of economic fluctuation. Whether this will be highlighted at the Climate Summit remains to be seen. I am hopeful that renewable energy will be emphasized as the only pathway forwards to a clean future, my concern lies more in what actions we commit to as a global community to get there. How we balance the desire for economic growth with a Blue Economy, how we understand the needs of our neighbours and still stand firm in the needs we have as Island States.

It is about ensuring that we work towards climate justice, about fairness and about considering a future that extends far beyond our own existence. In COP21 and beyond, this must be how we move forwards as blue guardians and advocates of the future we want.