Paris Agreement on Climate Change: Onwards and Upwards

(Front Row L-R) Minister for Foreign Affairs for Fiji, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Premier of Niue, Toke Talagi, Australian Foreign
(Front Row L-R) Minister for Foreign Affairs for Fiji, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Premier of Niue, Toke Talagi, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Meg Taylor, Nauru President Baron Divavesi Waqa, (Middle Row L-R) President of the Government of New Caledonia, Philippe Germain, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Solomon Islands, Milner Tozaka, Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs for Kiribati, Waysang KumKee, Minister for Foreign Affairs for Tokelau, Sipili Perez, Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, Fonotoe Nuafesili Pierre Lauofo, (Back Row L-R) Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, David Sheppard, Minister for Foreign Affairs for Tuvalu, Taukelina Finikaso, Minister for Foreign Affairs for New Zealand, Murray McCully, Vice President of Palau, Antonio Bells, Minister for Foreign Affairs for Papau New Guinea, Rimbink Pato, Minister of Public Works for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Hiroshi Yamamura, Deputy Prime Minister of Tonga, Siaosi Sovaleni, pose for a group photo before the start of the Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting in Sydney on July 9, 2015. The Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers' Meeting is held from July 9-10. AFP PHOTO / Peter PARKS (Photo credit should read PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)

My very first UN Climate Conference was the Copenhagen Conference in 2009, a very difficult and disheartening entry into the foray of climate negotiations.

As my term comes to an end as the Director-General of SPREP -- the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme -- I am delighted to note the successful outcomes of the Paris COP 21 Conference, and the strong and positive contributions from Pacific island delegations.

We are in the front line of a changing climate and it is pleasing to see that our voice was heard "loud and clear" in Paris.

The Agreement includes several key elements that are of particular importance to the Pacific region, including recognition for pursuing a temperature goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a strengthened mechanism for loss and damage, and the provision for scaled up and simplified access to climate finance for Small Island Developing States.

The Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific (CROP) agencies has worked as "One Team" to support Pacific island countries with technical assistance during the lengthy negotiation process.

I commend the leadership and tireless efforts of Pacific Leaders in Paris who were truly inspirational throughout COP 21 and was extremely proud to be with our Pacific Leaders in Paris and to hear the voices of the Pacific on climate change, in this important global platform.

Small islands around the world worked together, demonstrating the importance of Pacific collaboration with other regions, through the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

AOSIS has been instrumental in mobilising a collective voice in the sea of lengthy and intense negotiations, which is evidenced in the position of 1.5 degrees and a mechanism for loss and damage, being included in the final text of the Paris Agreement.

Dame Meg Taylor, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, was in Paris for the COP 21 meeting and agreed, saying "This agreement provides a strong outcome for the Pacific. While there were great gains the real work starts now. We must work together to secure climate change finance for the island nations to support adaptation activities."

"Pacific Leaders and their delegations did an amazing job in representing their people and future generations of Pacific islanders. The way in which the CROP agencies worked alongside them highlighted to me once again just how much can be achieved when the region works together towards a common goal."

The Paris Agreement includes aspects that are legally binding, and includes a five-year review of emissions to determine the ability to meet the long-term global goal, to "prevent dangerous anthropogenic climate change."

Other key measures include: to peak greenhouse-gas emissions as soon as possible and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century; to review progress every five years; and a commitment toward US $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future. Small island states, together with least developed countries, have special status with regard to financing and reporting under the Paris Agreement.

The inclusion of "loss and damage" in the Agreement is a significant step toward recognition of the loss and damage that results from the adverse effects of climate change (including extreme weather events and slow onset events) and acknowledgment of the suffering of vulnerable states including small island countries and territories in the Pacific.

Another key implication from Paris will be an overhaul of historic proportions for energy policies worldwide and a huge investment in renewable energy and cleaning up the pollution now being emitted to the Earth's atmosphere. In the Pacific, this will signal an acceleration of the existing efforts of Pacific island countries and territories to shift to renewable energy. Globally, every country will now have to commit to reducing emissions.

Key factors on the success of COP 21 for the Pacific were the open and transparent manner in which the Government of France led the COP itself and their extensive consultations with stakeholders, Pacific voices and the AOSIS, building upon the lessons learnt from Copenhagen in 2009.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific (USP), Professor Rajesh Chandra, welcomed the outcome of COP 21 and noted: "The Paris Agreement is a historic win globally, and seeing how the Pacific has been able to influence the COP 21 negotiations, while also working as the 'moral centre', is a great show of our abilities and the collaborative potential we have across the region and amongst our CROP agencies."

"It is a great testament of what can be achieved by our island nations, which will be especially important as the world begins to work towards the goals that are set out in the Agreement," said Professor Chandra.

CROP Agencies through the PIFS, SPREP, USP and the Pacific Community (SPC), worked closely and effectively together at COP 21 to support Pacific delegations.

The Director-General of the Pacific Community, Dr Colin Tukuitonga, noted: "The Paris Agreement is an achievement of David and Goliath proportions and our Pacific leaders and delegations must be commended for fronting this monumental challenge with sterling leadership, unwavering commitment and a strong, united voice."

"Against immense odds, the concerns and resolve of small island states are echoed in the pages of this agreement and I would also like to acknowledge the effective cooperation by all partners within the Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific toward lending vital support to our leaders in their quest for a successful outcome in Paris," Dr Tukuitonga added.

As I move on from the helm of the Pacific island regions' environment organisation, I look forward to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change moving from "words to action" to ensure a better future for this and future generations of our Pacific people.

Onwards and upwards

This post is part of a "Voices from Small Island Developing States" series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (Nov. 30-Dec. 11), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on the SIDS countries, which are located in the Pacific, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, and is part of HuffPost's What's Working editorial initiative. To view the entire series, visit here.