If life is all a stage, as Shakespeare asserts, then for many, a journey home can be an intermission; a time to reflect upon preceding scenes and to contemplate the next Act. This week, returning home to the Caribbean island of Grenada with its picturesque backdrop provided such a Kodak moment for me. Similarly, for fellow travelers from 43 nations of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) journeying to Grenada this week, the meeting provided a snapshot of the organization’s achievements as it celebrates its 20th Anniversary. It was also a moment to contemplate and plan for the challenges that lay ahead in Cancun .
The presence of Minister Xie, China’s chief climate negotiator and Todd Stern, his US counterpart at this AOSIS meeting, co-hosted by Mexico signaled that AOSIS had indeed come a long way. Having campaigned for the AOSIS chairmanship to go to Grenada when I served as its UN Ambassador, I must confess some personal pride. My successor and good friend, Ambassador Dessima Williams and her team had done us proud by going much further. AOSIS was also joined by senior climate officials from India, Egypt, the United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden, Belgium and other countries; testimony to the intense international interest, the role of AOSIS and perhaps an indicator of further complexities to come.
The island states, aka “the conscience of the convention” are calling upon the international community to limit greenhouse gases to well below 350 parts per million, to limit temperature rises to below 1.5 degrees Celsius and to enter into a legally binding agreement in order to achieve these targets. The impacts of climate change, they assert, are already being felt and therefore even a two degree target is too high. “One point five, to stay alive” their slogan goes.
Many who had travelled to Grenada for this meeting and who had suffered rescheduled flights and delayed baggage due to an unseasonal hurricane Tomas, found themselves face-to-face with climate change impacts. In the plenary, descriptions -with emotional outpourings- regarding the loss of lives and the damages visited upon St. Lucia, Barbados and St. Vincent were sobering. And Selwin Hart of Barbados struck a chord on this note; Hurricane Tomas was a reminder that that climate change was not just an abstract exercise in drafting language and bracketing text. Interventions by the low-lying island states emphasized the existential threat posed by sea level rise at a time when AOSIS found itself swimming amongst the climate giants.
What emerged as a possible way forward was the notion of a single COP decision reflecting a balanced package. Balance was described in three dimensions: balance between the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) and the Kyoto Protocol (KP), balance between commitments and actions by developed and developing countries and balance in the pillars of the LCA. There was an acknowledgement that the existing text may not serve well, such ends.
The World Bank Climate Envoy, Andrew Steer and I had the opportunity to discuss these matters over lunch with both the chairs of the KP and the LCA and the take-home message was one of cautious optimism. Earlier that day, Andrew along with Verle Vandewerd of UNDP, spoke just before the Grenada’s Prime Minister and Mexico’s Minister of Environment . Verle spoke not only about how UNDP could help the Small Island Developing States but also about the strengths of the World Bank. She ended by reciting the Bank’s slogan for the 2010 World Development Report on Climate Change; “Act Now, Act Together and Act Differently”. Andrew delivered, what was described by many others as a “powerful statement” regarding the leadership shown by SIDS on the climate issue, the Bank’s ongoing support to SIDS and how the Bank, working in partnership with UNDP and others could support SIDS in future including on renewable energy.
When you take away the frameworks, the brackets, the degrees and the parts per million, climate change is very much a human story of relationships and partnerships that touch lives. We at the bank are very much part of that narrative.
The engagement of the multilateral agencies with the smallest and most vulnerable nations sends a powerful message regarding commitment to the global climate challenge.