Pacific Island Countries need scaled up access to climate finance

Author: Henry Puna, Prime Minster of the Cook Islands

PM Puna addressing COP24. (Picture: SPREP)
PM Puna addressing COP24. (Picture: SPREP)

A KEY priority for my fellow Pacific Leaders and negotiators currently attending the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24), is accessing climate finance, across all finance mechanisms of the UNFCCC and Paris Agreement.

The Cook Islands is a country comprising of 15 islands in the heart of the South Pacific.  Under a variety of potential climate change scenarios, each one of these islands are at great risk due to sea level rise, extreme rainfall events, storm surges, strong winds or extreme high air temperatures. This disturbing reality is shared by most of the ten million Pacific islanders who inhabit the oceanic continent we call the Blue Pacific.

As our people work to adapt their communities to deal with the effects of a changing climate, our countries must again call for the scaling up of climate related financing. Our small economies simply cannot afford these efforts on their own. We seek committed and reliable partners who can help us continue with our mitigation strategies and our adaptation needs.

Collectively, we cannot ignore the signs anymore, and we definitely cannot deny the scientific findings of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on global warming of 1.5ᵒC. According to the report, most adaptation needs will be lower for global warming of 1.5ᵒC compared to 2ᵒC. We need to act, and we need act urgently.

With small land masses and vast ocean surroundings, we are already feeling the impacts of sea level rise. In the Cook Islands, sea level has risen by about 4mm per year since 1993 and this figure is higher than the global average of 2.8 –3.6 mm per year. Our freshwater aquifers are being inundated by seawater and water levels are increasing over the reef flat, allowing larger waves to reach our shoreline. During storms there is an increased occurrence of overtopping creating significant damage to our coastal infrastructure.

At the moment, around 80 per cent of all climate change funds are for mitigation projects, but we need allocations to focus on adaptation as well. The Cook Islands is pleased to have been able to access funding under the Adaptation Fund directly, and we have found the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Simplified Access Procedures (SAP) helpful in accessing climate change funds for low risk projects. We appreciate the on-going work on capacity building and supplementation for accessing and managing climate finance through the GCF and we wish that to continue.

We are also pleased that the Cook Islands Ministry of Finance became the second national implementing entity, and the only government central agency in the Pacific to be accredited for ‘direct access’ to the GCF. I would encourage other countries to make use of this opportunity as this will build country systems, and lead to strengthened institutional and human capacity.

However, there is room for further improvement under the current finance mechanisms. For Pacific island countries, timely disbursement of funding is critical. Our Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) commitments are very ambitious and we require external funding support to successfully implement them. The Adaptation Fund remains underfunded and we need to avoid these financing gaps going forward. It is important therefore that developed countries should continue to maintain the US$100 billion goal, noting that this is only the minimum amount.

My fellow Pacific people are depending on urgent and ambitious climate action at COP 24 this year. We must ensure that the Implementation Guidelines for the Paris Agreement are concluded. We must ensure that the Talanoa Dialogue process leads to a strong political declaration and decision that responds to the IPCC 1.5 deg C report and sets a pathway for enhanced change action. And finally, we must ensure that timely and scaled up climate finance is made available to developing nations who need it most.

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