Large Ocean States (Small Island Developing States)

Fiji has stated its mission as President in the twenty third Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—hosted in Bonn, Germany between November 6 -17—is to encourage the commitment, cooperative dialogue and affirmative action of members to the Paris Agreement to ensure steps towards targets remain within the timelines of 2020 and 2030 goals. Fiji’s principal action and message to the world, as stated by Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, is that “we are all in the same canoe,” and that climate change action needs to understand the ocean as a vulnerable ecosystem that is inextricably essential to the survival of populations (including human, animal and vegetative) across the world.

While Fiji is a small collective of South Pacific islands, and technically recognized as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), it is taking prominent and powerful steps on the climate change platform as the first island nation to president the COP. SIDS are mostly identified by leading non-government organisations, including the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as states that are economically and environmentally fragile, challenged by “high exposure to natural disasters and climate change, high exposure to global economic shocks, small or unstable domestic reserves and limited borrowing capacity.”

However, despite the perceived challenges and potential limitations to their economic and political influence, SIDS are collectively a group with an important voice, as well as a lot to lose in a world in which the interests and influence of a relative few may potentially discourage cohesive action on the climate change challenge. On a more positive and empowering note, SIDS are recognized by the UN Development Program as “custodians of 15 of the 50 largest Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ)” and make up “almost 20% of the UN membership base” across three geographical regions, including the Caribbean, The Pacific and the collective Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea (AIMS).

Based on this, SIDS have re-branded themselves as “Large Ocean States”, defined by their direct cultural, economic, and natural connection to the ocean. Fiji’s presidency of the COP23 is, therefore, highly symbolic, as they not only represent the perspectives and concerns of other SIDS and climate vulnerable states, but also advocate directly for the ocean to be recognized as an individual stakeholder in the climate-change challenge, whose future health directly impacts on the all the world.

Fiji’s launch of The Ocean Pathway at the COP23 is designed to strategically implement initiatives that promote and protect the ocean, in recognition that it is a vulnerable ecosystem with a rich and important role to play in the planet’s sustainable development and diversity; and more importantly that “ there is no solution to global climate change without action on the world’s ocean.” These words were first expressed at the UN’s Ocean Conference in June this year, at which both Fiji and Sweden were co-chairs to the high level political and civil society forum.

The outcome of the conference was presented in a declared resolution (71/312) to the UN General Assembly in July, and outlined the collective understanding that the ocean “covers three quarters of the planet, connects our populations and market and forms an important part of our natural and cultural heritage.” The declaration also recognized the ocean as a critical provider of the planet’s oxygen, an absorber of carbon emissions, regulator of weather patterns, provider of food and livelihoods.

From this perspective, the ocean is a much more complex and dynamic mass that is integral to the well being of the planet and all its inhabitants, making it necessary to be represented individually as stakeholder and contributor to the outcome of action and solutions on climate change. The importance of the ocean has already been defined in UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Life Below Water), however, the Ocean Pathway will support and actively define the strategies to achieve this goal.

Fiji’s Ocean Pathway will ink the sentiment expressed at the Ocean Conference and bind members to seek innovative and workable solutions that raise the value of, and respect for the ocean as a critical common good. The implications of failing to act on this would be immeasurable, thereby making it all the more simple to understand that “action for a healthy ocean is action on climate change and vice versa.”

Carolina Morison