News Item

Climate Focus

Success Stories 8 Apr 2021


Last month, PCF Project Manager David Vaeafe participated in the Indigi-X virtual exchange with presentations from indigenous professional from Canada, New Zealand, and for the first time, Fiji. As part of our climate change special, PCF looks at the Canadian Kiwi joint presentation on indigenous climate futures.

Building up, looking out | Capacity building for climate futures

“Climate change poses threats and dangers to the survival of indigenous communities worldwide” – United Nations Permanent Forum on Climate Change.

In a climate challenged reality, it is imperative that the adaptive capacity of Indigenous people be developed and supported by government in three areas – at the decision-making tables, in community adaptation and through energy opportunities – when disproportionately facing the front-line impacts of climate change.

That was the call to action during the presentation by Indigi-X panel Patricia Sayer (CA), Leighton Gall (CA), Tayla Afoa (NZ), and Nicki Douglas (NZ), who said climate change was a particular threat to indigenous peoples who are “broadly connected to their respective natural environments. The impact of which will be felt in cultural, social, environmental and economic ways.”

Through inclusive and meaningful changes to policy that reflect the indigenous populations of respective countries, the panel recommended some impactful initiatives such as investment into indigenous owned new energy solutions, increasing representation and indigenous voices at decision-making tables, and political and financial climate trade measures - all moving towards reaching international climate mitigation goals, as well as the active implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

You can watch the full exchange on the Indigi-X YouTube channel and keep an eye out for the final reports on their website.

About Indigi-X

INDIGI-X facilitates the connection of Indigenous Professionals around the world, encouraging collaboration and economic growth. It was created to facilitate the transfer of knowledge, to build professional networks, and support the development of commerce for indigenous nations around the world. A biproduct of this has been deep friendships made, transfer of culture, and the renewed belief in the resilience of indigenous peoples.


While looking forward to the highly anticipated climate summit, COP 26, this November, PCF looks back to 2017 when Fiji held the presidency of COP 23.

Save Tuvalu, Save the World: At the 2017 preparatory conference held in Suva, the incoming president of COP 23, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, arrives by drua with the leaders of two of the most climate-vulnerable Pacific nations, Kiribati and Tuvalu, making a lasting statement of Pacific unity in the face of climate change. SUPPLIED

Raise the level

The category 5 storm that ravaged Fiji on February 20, 2016 killed two people in the village of Nayavutoka, and left homes and livelihoods devastated beyond repair. As sea levels continue to rise and tropical cyclones inevitably threaten lives, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama will take the helm of this year’s international climate talks, raising the level of awareness and refusing to allow the vulnerable voices of the Pacific to be drowned out any longer.

At first glance tranquil and serene, the calm of Nayavutoka is disrupted by shards of corrugated iron snaring out of lush green bush, mangroves standing dead and bare in lifeless mudflats, tired limbs hanging precariously off war-torn coconut trees, toddlers with lesions scarring their faces from poor diet and hygiene, and the unsalvageable remnants of homes strewn across uprooted grasslands. This is devastation by nature, but not nature made. This is the effect of climate change.

Situated in Fiji’s northern province of Ra, the people of Nayavutoka are rebuilding their lives as the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston slowly relinquishes its grip. Not quite climate refugees, the villagers are learning to adapt to their new reality. Their homes must be built inland and well above sea level, their crops must be sustainably planted, they must learn safe hygiene practices to prevent the spread of disease, and they must, most importantly, prepare themselves for not if, but when the next cyclone hits.

This is the stark reality of climate change, the human impact and real-time effects that are so often lost in the diplomatic war of words and cacophony of international dialogue. It was 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol, the first legally binding international agreement to mitigate climate change, was signed. Since then, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has negotiated the Buenos Aires Plan of Action, the Delhi Ministerial Declaration, the Montreal Action Plan, the Adaptation Fund, the Doha Amendment, the Green Climate Fund, the Bali Action Plan, and most significantly, the Paris Agreement.

Yet today, 20 years on from Kyoto, Nayavutoka villager Emele Bitaki has no roof on her home, she can barely keep her three children fed and clothed, and her only source of income was swept away in Cyclone Winston’s fury. It is villages like hers that are the most exposed to climate change yet have the smallest voice, so it is significant that Fiji, Bitaki’s homeland and one of the most vulnerable nations on the planet, is at the helm of this year’s climate negotiations.

Steered by the Fijian concept of talanoa, or inclusivity and transparency, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama will assume the presidency of the 23rd Conference of the Parties in Bonn this November – the co-host to Germany. As the first country in the world to ratify the Paris Agreement, Fiji is also the first vulnerable island nation to preside over the conference, fine-tuning the rulebook that works to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, and its people well above water.

As the davui shell sounds, Bainimarama will collectively represent the Pacific Small Island Developing States, seeking to have the international community commit to the Paris Agreement in practice, a role that is funded in part by foreign governments, including the United States which announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement earlier this year, though this cannot take effect until November 4 2020 – four years post Paris and precisely one day after the US presidential election.Bainimarama appealed to the US and embraced his incoming presidency at the Climate Action Pacific Partnership event in Suva this past July, where island leaders gathered to plan their shared vision.

“We all bring a particular perspective to these discussions based on personal experience and the experience of our peoples. And there is certainly nothing wrong with having differences of emphasis and even differences of opinion about the best way forward.

“What’s important given the immensity of the challenge we face to persuade the world to act on climate change is to stick together. Because we are going to be far more effective if we speak with one voice – the voice of the Pacific, the voice of some of the most vulnerable, demanding action and demanding to be heard.”

Upon signing the Paris Agreement, Fiji pledged to generate 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030, and with the help of the private sector, adaptation has already begun. Coca Cola Amatil recently launched a solar-powered initiative at their Fiji-based factory this July, a world first for the international conglomerate. But the local Fijian economy is made up primarily of SMEs, and the Pacific Island Private Sector Organisation acting chief executive Alisi Tuqa says it’s important for both big and small industry to be on board with sustainable practices.

“Fiji is the first Small Island Developing State to assume the presidency, and it’s important for the whole region, including the private sector, to be part of a process that encompasses the formal negotiations and the partnerships for action.

“Businesses want to be more informed and aware of these issues around climate change and want clarity on issues that will affect how to do business – for example fuels, oceans management – a key resource for us in the Pacific – energy and investments, and the impact of climate change on natural resources.”

That in turn means social responsibility and adaptation, which is already somewhat ingrained in Fijian culture. Villages like Nayavutoka are reviving ancestral practices that were all but wiped out by tinned goods and fast food, a lingering symptom of the Pacific’s postcolonial hangover. Dr Jone Hawea, associate director of homegrown NGO FRIEND, the Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises and Development, says rural Fijians are already using sustainable practices.

“For example, they have already been practicing organic farming, all they are learning now is the English words for it, the international standards. We just facilitate the recognition of whatever it is that they have, the resources, the skills, and then turn it into a livelihood concept, an income-generating project.”

While Pacific voices may be raised at the international level, it is the call for global action to reduce carbon emissions that the Fijian presidency will try to push, and that means action locally too.

“Nothing is impossible, but those strong messages that are happening on top need to filter down and need to come in a form that people can really make sense of in a practical way, in daily living. We can say a lot on an international scene, but it has to be supported by enforcement of environment protection, and it also has to make sense with the need to develop sustainably.”

When Bainimarama addressed the United Nations delegates in May this year, he said it was talanoa, the inclusive process, that was the best and only way to move the shared agenda forward in the fight to mitigate climate change.

“My role, of course, is to be impartial, to act in the collective interest of all nations. But I certainly bring my own perspective to these negotiations. And it is that of a Fijian, a Pacific Islander, who comes from a region of the world that is bearing the brunt of climate change. Whether it is the rising seas, extreme weather events or changes to agriculture that threaten our way of life and in some cases, our very existence.

“We who are most vulnerable must be heard, whether we come from the Pacific or other Small Island Developing States, other low-lying nations and states or threatened cities in the developed world like Miami, New York, Venice or Rotterdam. But together we must speak out for the whole world – every global citizen – because no one, no matter who he or she is or where they live, will ultimately escape the impact of climate change.”

This feature was first published in Fiji’s Mai Life Magazine.


What is COP 26? COP 26 is the United Nations’ global climate change conference. COPs are the ‘Conference of the Parties’ for countries that signed the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change, and this year’s meeting is the 26th meeting.

If you haven’t heard of COP 26, you will have heard of the Paris Agreement and the United States’ re-entry of which was one of the first actions of the Biden Administration. That agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change that was signed by 196 Parties at COP 21 Paris in 2015. From that agreement signed nearly a decade ago, the leaders of those countries meet annually to agree how best to save the planet from the catastrophic effects of climate change by limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

The last gathering, COP 25 2019, was widely considered to have failed to meet its goals while COP 26 is expected to be the biggest climate meeting since Paris. Postponed last year due to Covid-19, COP 26 will be co-hosted by the UK and Italian governments in Glasgow this November. It will be chaired by UK cabinet minister Alok Sharma and there is a busy calendar leading up to the main event that is planned to be in person while having Covid-19 contingency plans.

The latest meeting was the Climate and Development Ministerial held on 31 March 2021 which centred around fiscal responsibility to combat climate change, while considering the pandemics’ impact on many countries’ ability to achieve their development priorities.

In a statement released this week, COP 26 said there was a need to increase finance reaching the local level, thereby improving access, and empowering the most vulnerable countries and communities. It said participants – including Tuvalu - highlighted the challenges for all climate vulnerable countries, whatever their level of income, in accessing public and private finance.

Meanwhile, Pacific governments have committed to new green energy goals with transition plans underway, updating their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) in anticipation of COP26, aiming to be at the forefront of global efforts, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, along with New Zealand, has been invited to participate in President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate taking place on Earth Day this 22-23 April.

Further reading:



PCFs Pacific Connection Magazine, Issue 18, December 2008 – February 2009

The recent Pacific Climate Change Roundtable held in Apia, Samoa, agreed that the Pacific was important in fighting the impact of climate change, writes Samoan journalist and founder of the Pacific Current Affairs news service, Cherelle Jackson.

Pacific Island countries hold no resentment towards the developed world for being the major contributors to climate change, even though the Islands have suffered, are suffering and will suffer the obvious and early consequences of changing weather patterns.

In fact, some smaller Pacific Islands will not only lose their lands – they also stand to lose their cultures and ways of life, wiping away the lifeblood of generations of ethnicities and peoples.

The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) says many Pacific Islands are extremely vulnerable to climate change, climate variability and sea level rise. They will be among the first to suffer the impacts of climate change and be forced to adapt, or to abandon and relocate from their environment.

SPREP says the impacts will be felt for many generations because of the small Island states’ low adaptive capacity, high sensitivity to external shocks and high vulnerability to natural disasters.

Recent figures released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show that the Pacific contributes only 0.03 percent of global emissions, yet the Islands are notably paying the price of mass emissions.

During the Pacific Climate Change Roundtable (PCCR), in October, it was agreed that one Pacific voice would be more effective than individual voices.

The president and chief executive officer of Counterpart International, Lelei Tuisamoa LeLaulu, said that unless the Pacific was united with one voice, the region would continue to be ignored by developed countries.

“There is very positive thinking – everybody knows that we contribute the least to climate change emissions, but we suffer the most from it. It is a fact that everybody knows, and it is just the old Pacific way of seeing the positives of the situation and the need to go for it,” he said.

“There is no feeling that the world owes us anything. We are here to say that we suffer the most from climate change emissions, but we want to do the most to adapt and mitigate against its effect.

“The whole point here is that communication is key, because for too long scientists and technical people have driven the debate. Their work is terribly important, but we are at the stage now where we have to reach out to the people and their elected representatives to get them to understand, and to get them to speak with a Pacific voice.

“The reason why it is important to get the Pacific voices heard on the international stage, is that we’re at the place now where international agreements on dealing with climate change are getting close,” Lelei LeLaulu said.

PCCR participants were wary that climate change would have negative impacts on tourism, freshwater availability and quality, aquaculture, agriculture, human settlements, financial services, and human health in the Pacific.

Low-lying coastal areas of all islands were especially vulnerable to sea level rise, as well as to changes in rainfall, storm frequency and intensity. Inundation, flooding, erosion, and intrusion of sea water were among the likely impacts.

SPREP climate change adviser Espen Ronneberg said the catastrophes would result in economic and social costs beyond the capacity of most Pacific Island countries and threaten the very existence of small atoll countries.

IPCC estimated that adaptations to climate change could cost billions of dollars that the Pacific did not have.

Ronneberg said that the PCCR meeting acted as an information sharing and coordinating mechanism for the region, so that best practices and lessons learned could be widely applied across the Pacific.

The concern was especially urgent because there was an economically feasible window of opportunity to halt climate change, yet actions by those most responsible for causing climate change had been uninspiring at best.

Ronneberg said a united front was required from Pacific leaders to address the issue.

Leaders meeting at this year’s Pacific Islands Forum in Niue were determined to commit to the ongoing development and implementation of Pacific-tailored approaches to combating climate change.

The next international meeting on climate change will be held in December in Poland. Only then will the Pacific know who is and is not serious about minimising the impacts of climate change.

Read the full issue here.