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Notes from a Small Island State: AOSIS negotiators on making the case for emissions reductions

  • 02 Apr 2012, 15:00
  • Robin Webster

A pig and a chicken go into a restaurant and see that eggs and bacon are on the menu for breakfast. The chicken is flattered - "look they are talking about us!" The pig is less impressed. He says: "For you it's an offering, for me it's a sacrifice."

Karl Hood, Grenada's Minister for Environment and Foreign Affairs, tells a good analogy - using the story above to kick off a short lecture ( available as a podcast) at the London School of Economics. The small island states are like the pig, argued the minister, because for them adapting to climate change isn't about making an "offering" as it may be for more fortunate countries. Their very existence is threatened by climate change - an existential threat. "We in the small island states are the ones who pay the bill"

Hood was talking under the heading ' COP 17: the awakening of the climate vulnerables', accompanied by Leon Charles, Grenada's lead climate change negotiator. Grenada took its turn as the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) during the climate change negotiations in Durban in December 2011.

AOSIS is known for taking a forceful stance at climate negotiations, perhaps unsurprising given that according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate  Change  (iPCC), small islands are "especially vulnerable" to the effects  of climate change. The IPCC concluded in 2007 that there is "very high confidence" that sea level rise could "threaten [...] vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities that support the livelihood of island communities" and "strong evidence" that under most scenarios water resources in small islands are likely to be "seriously compromised".


Hood said:

"...whenever we speak the hard words and ask the hard questions we are looked at as though we are the problem, as though we are the ones that do not want the negotiations to go forward...as though we are the stallers in the progress of other nations...We are saying,  treat us as equals, we are people too, this is our land, treat us with that respect."


This sounds like a veiled criticism of the negotiating positions of India and China - who have argued in the climate negotiations that developed countries should cut emissions while they are given more space to develop.  When asked whether there was a split in the G77, however, the answer was an unequivocal no - just some "difference of opinions".

On the topic of the climate negotiations, he argued that the small island states are facing "the real existential threat of climate change" saying:

"...those who have caused the problems are only going to say to you, take five million dollars and keep your mouth shut. I'd rather keep my mouth open and leave the money alone. Because I would not sell my future, my children's future, my nation's future, just for a few dollars. Because you can't replace hope."

The UK represents 2% of global emissions - and so the argument is often made that it doesn't make much difference if we switch to a green economy or not. Does it really matter what we do, on a global level? Hood gave this idea pretty short shrift: 

"If you are emitting 2%, it's not 0%...it's like saying if you are six weeks pregnant you are only "slightly pregnant". You're either polluting or you're not, moving towards a green world or you're not".

Both speakers flagged up some of the sticking points in the negotiations. Hood stated that some countries are looking to "reimagine" the agreement at Durban such that 2020 will be a starting point for emissions reductions. The reality (or perhaps the hope) expressed by Charles was that there is a chance that emissions reductions could start "as early as possible after 2015".

There was also interesting insight from Leon Charles into what it's like to be a negotiator for a small state at the climate negotiations - a state that might send two delegates to a conference where twenty sessions run simultaneously. "You have to decide when to sleep" he noted matter of factly. In this situation, alliances - with other small island states, with the rest of the G77, with the EU - are unsurprisingly critical to success.  

One of the event's central themes was the need for everyone to have a home. This is an idea which might ring some bells with conservative philosopher Roger Scruton -  the Greek term 'oikophilia' ("love of home") forms a  central plank of his recent book. Perhaps Scruton would agree with Hood's statement -  "The thought of losing home is totally unacceptable". You can lose your home but

"you are linked to that place…you will always feel that you have lost some valuable thing that you will not be able to retrieve."

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