September 2021/Rizqan Fadhillah for JGC
In early September this year, Janine Grant Consulting (JGC) was a sponsor of the Virtual Island Summit (VIS), with Fakri Karim, Director for Partnership Development, participating in the panel discussion on ‘Climate and Environmental Justice: Island Perspectives.’ VIS 2021 was hosted by Island Innovation, a social enterprise that connects private sector companies, governments, universities, NGOs and utilities with island stakeholders to support success of their sustainability projects.
Mr. Karim used his time in the panel to bring attention to the fact that small island countries are on the front line of climate change impacts, with the risks that they are facing beyond those of other countries. If the rest of the world fails to live up to commitments as made at COP 21 in Paris in 2015, to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, some island countries, especially the small atoll countries, are at risk of losing their land, their heritage, and their culture. Whereas other countries might suffer severe air pollution, lose their biodiversity, and experience water scarcity which will gradually impact their economy, small Island countries are at risk of losing their nations. If they are forced to move from their country as climate refugees, they will gradually lose everything including their culture and identity.
In his presentation, Mr. Karim quoted from the speech of Mr. Enele Sosene Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu from 2013-2019, who argued that to see how climate change will impact the world, we must put our feet in the shoes of small island countries. Although small islands countries will experience the biggest impacts of climate change in the short term, the irony is that they are not the ones who caused the problem. This point leads to another issue about who makes the decision about what to do, who should do it and how. If the governments and communities of small islands countries are not making the decisions about their futures, with decisions instead being made on their behalf by the ‘global community’, surely this is an even bigger injustice for them.
This issue has emerged because the local governments who are on the front line dealing with the climate change impacts faced by their communities often do not have sufficient resources and capacity to empower them to respond to community needs. To be able to play their role, local governments need capacity and resources.
Development assistance programs which top up the budget for local government to support climate change actions could be one possible solution. Budget top ups would allow local governments to plan and implement their own initiatives based on their country strategy to address climate change, which is very specific from one small island country to another. This kind of initiative gives them the right to decide and act for their own good, which is an important part of climate justice. Moreover, climate action based on country and community strategies creates space for indigenous and traditional knowledge to be included and used as part of the effort to mitigate or adapt to climate change impacts. For island countries, climate changes challenges are unique, with communities in the islands having their own experiences and expertise in dealing with it over generations.
The question is, how well does the global climate change agenda accommodate indigenous experience? Have we, as a global development community, created enough room to allow local governments to play their role in relation to the climate change mitigation and adaptation frameworks that already exist, and which we ask governments to report against? When it comes to the issue of climate and environmental justice, there appears to be more questions than answers.
You can watch the Mr. Karim’s presentation, and the entire panel discussion on Climate and Environmental Justice, here.