Inia Seruiratu: Championing small island states at COP23

Fiji holds the presidency at the 23rd Climate Change Conference (COP23), held in Bonn, Germany from 6 to 17 November. Inia Seruiratu, Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development, National Disaster Management and Meteorological Services, explains his hopes for accelerating climate action in favour of vulnerable small island nations.

Inia Seruiratu, Fiji’s High Level Climate Champion, explains how he intends to provide a stronger platform for all stakeholders to accelerate climate action © Fiji COP23 Secretariat

As Fiji’s High Level Climate Champion, how do you intend to advance the global climate action agenda to enhance international partnerships and cooperative action to support vulnerable nations in adapting to the impacts of climate change?

First and foremost, setting a common framework to work from is necessary, as is providing guidance and monitoring and recording various stakeholders’ progress involved in climate action. This framework is the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action (MPGCA) launched in Marrakech during COP22, which provides a systematic process for high level climate champions to carry forward issues raised by the non-party stakeholders (not officially representing a country) into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process.

In the Pacific in July 2017, we established a Climate Action Pacific Partnership (CAPP) under the umbrella of the MPGCA. CAPP stakeholders include the private sector, civil society organisations, NGOs, academic institutions, intergovernmental organisations and the government. Various coalitions, alliances and initiatives from the financing, technical and policy sectors, among others, play a major role in supporting vulnerable nations to adapt to climate change impacts.

What have you learned from the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston that can help to better prepare rural communities, and enhance their resilience to the impacts of increasingly intense natural disasters?

Firstly, we have learnt the need to adopt the principles of building back better or building back stronger in our recovery and reconstruction efforts. This is to ensure that buildings are durable and can withstand the next category 5 event, and is all part of building Fiji’s resilience against high intensity events that may be encountered in the near future.

Secondly, the need for better planning to ensure that disaster risk reduction is embedded within urban and rural development/planning legislation and approval processes. There is a need to be more proactive and enforce regulations on building codes, development restriction in disaster prone areas and most importantly, to ensure that development within these areas takes into consideration disaster risk reduction measures to reduce future impacts. For every US$1 (€0.85) invested in risk reduction, there is a saving of US$7 (€6) in the aftermath of a disaster.

Thirdly, the need to simplify disaster warnings. Communities find it difficult to translate or visualise the technical nature of weather bulletins. Improving how the message is framed can support better understanding of the status of the situation, and what preparedness and evacuation procedures should be undertaken under these various situations.

What is the potential for private sector participation in the adaptation of agriculture to climate change? How can more private sector companies be attracted to invest in this area?

There is huge potential for private sector involvement in the area of climate-smart agriculture. Index-based weather insurance can provide agricultural households with a mechanism to mitigate risk. This in turn allows farmers’ cooperatives to take more risks for more profitable investment decisions. Similarly, insurance can help households to smooth income across varying production years. In Fiji, climate variability and seasonal changes are causing havoc on our fruiting patterns and plant production.

Fiji has recently faced extreme weather events, and providing insurance cover for these types of events is a huge challenge for financial service providers to develop accurate packages that could assist farmers against crop losses, while at the same time, providing fair returns to insurance companies. Offering incentives for insurance companies when farmers purchase insurance can attract financial service providers to consider applications from the agricultural sector.

CTA is involved in discussions at COP23 about engaging youth in climate-smart agriculture. Why do think this is so important?

Youths are our future farmers, our future entrepreneurs, our future decision-makers, our future leaders. In Fiji, and in most other Pacific Island countries, agriculture is the backbone of the economy. To ensure sustainable development and a sustainable future, it is imperative that youths are engaged in the discourse, in the learning and in the practical application of climate-smart agriculture.

What is the key message of Fiji’s presidency of COP23? What would you like to be remembered for?

Our key priorities for COP23 are: making as much balanced progress as possible on the Paris Agreement Implementation Guidelines, and capturing the interim results at COP23. We want to deliver the design of the 2018 Facilitative Dialogue – a process that would lead to increased ambition of the next round of nationally determined contributions (climate pledge) towards the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. As the first small island state COP Presidency, we have the moral obligation to deliver concrete results to island nations and islanders, many of whom are already losing their homes and loved ones. We want to see progress on adaptation, adaptation finance and feasible climate risk insurance schemes to deliver concrete tools and solutions to the most vulnerable, who are suffering from the impacts of climate change. We also want to draw attention to the role of oceans for climate change mitigation and adaptation. We hope that in the future, the UNFCCC process will find a place to utilise the full potential of oceans for achieving the Paris Agreement goals and for preserving oceans’ health.

All consultations will be carried out in the spirit of Talanoa – an approach that is part of Pacific culture, which encourages inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue involving the sharing of ideas, skills and experience through storytelling. During the process, parties forge relationships, build trust and advance knowledge through empathy and understanding. As the High Level Climate Champion, I will strive to provide a stronger platform for all stakeholders, from various sectors around the world, to share their experiences, knowledge, skills and resources to accelerate climate action. Together with my co-champion, we want to spread the sense of urgency to accelerate climate action in order to keep temperature increase to below 1.5°C, and to reach a net-zero carbon emissions world in the next few decades.

Clare Pedrick

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The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.