The Climate Vulnerable Forum completed the world’s first-ever zero-emissions climate summit this week, a day-long virtual meeting that challenged the inevitably more carbon-intensive COP 24 in Katowice, Poland to usher in tougher national climate targets and make climate financing more available to vulnerable countries.
In the one-page Jememmej Declaration adopted as their formal contribution to the Talanoa Dialogue at COP 24, CVF members committed “to update and raise the level of ambition of our own nationally determined contributions to the global response to climate change (NDCs) by 2020 at the latest, in the context of the provision of robust and predictable international finance and other means of implementation.”
Their intent in doing so is “to trigger increased national contributions from all nations by 2020 to keep the 1.5°C warming limit within reach and to safeguard those most vulnerable, fundamental human rights, people everywhere, fragile ecosystems, and the planet’s natural wealth, the global commons,” the declaration states.
The session called on COP 24 delegates—including governments and non-government entities (“non-state actors” in COP-speak)—to take action on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent blockbuster report on 1.5°C pathways by signaling action to boost their own carbon reduction targets by 2020.
The declaration also calls for “urgent further action to enable far greater flows of international climate finance to be delivered far more rapidly and effectively, facilitating and enabling enhanced climate ambition among capacity-constrained developing countries,” particularly least-developed countries and small island states.
Earlier this fall, CVF Chair and Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine unveiled her country’s strategy for achieving zero emissions by 2050, becoming the first small island state and only the tenth country anywhere to file a long-term decarbonization pathway with the United Nations. “The Pacific nation is punching above its weight and sending a clear signal to those dependent on growing their economies by investing into the fossil fuel industry to stop their dirty dealings before it becomes too late,” Pacific Net Head Kelvin Anthony said at the time. “This is an example big emitters must follow. If the Marshall Islands can increase ambition to reduce emissions, then why can’t the dirty energy-dependent and powerful economies do it too?”
During the virtual summit, Vanuatu said it would explore legal action against fossil companies and petro-states for their role in triggering a climate crisis that is now devastating the South Pacific Island archipelago. Vanuatu “is growing desperate for financial assistance to deal with the loss and damage it is increasingly experiencing due to extreme weather and global warming,” The Guardian reports. Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said Cyclone Pam wiped out 64.1% of his country’s GDP when it hit in 2015.
“My government is now exploring all avenues to utilize the judicial system in various jurisdictions—including under international law—to shift the costs of climate protection back onto the fossil fuel companies, the financial institutions, and the governments that actively and knowingly created this existential threat to my country,” he said.
While countries like Vanuatu are expected to rely on the UN’s troubled and underfunded Green Climate Fund to help them adapt to the impacts of climate change, “unfortunately countries like Australia who are the big polluters have just announced they will not contribute,” Regenvanu later told The Guardian. “There is a moral argument to say that to address our loss and damage bill, we should be getting that from the people who are profiting off it.”
“These countries are desperate and they’re looking for support, and instead of finding a friend they’re finding a closed door,” said former Australian climate negotiator Richie Merzian, now the climate and energy program director at the Australia Institute. “It’s great Vanuatu is looking for every option available to make their case, and there are a number of test cases around the world that they can learn from.”