Kiribati Hosts Tarawa Climate Change Conference

Delegates from nineteen countries are gathering this week in Kiribati, in an effort to inject new energy into international climate change negotiations. At the Tarawa Climate Change Conference, named for Kiribati’s capital city where the meeting is taking place, delegates hope to agree on a non-binding agreement participating countries will present to the world in Cancun, Mexico later this year. On Wednesday afternoon, the office of Kiribati’s President Anote Tong reported an agreement on text for the declaration had been reached.

Kiribati, a large chain of islands spanning much of the South Pacific, is both one of the world’s poorest countries and one of those most vulnerable to climate change. Contrary to the stereotype that poor countries can’t afford to care about the planet, President Tong and other national leaders have made it clear they see climate change as the number one threat to Kiribati’s future. Like small island nations that include Tuvalu and the Maldives, Kiribati is doing everything in its power to persuade large economies to reduce their carbon emissions and help the developing world deal with effects of climate change. The national government has put its money where its mouth is, proving Kiribati is willing to make the same kind of short-term sacrifices it asks other nations to make for the common good.

Though it will not produce a legally binding treaty, one purpose of the Tarawa Conference is to allow nations concerned about climate change to lay out a unified position on the need for action at the international level, in preparation for upcoming UN meetings in Cancun. The Cancun conference will be the largest international gathering on climate change since last year’s meetings in Copenhagen. In Copenhagen major carbon emitters failed to agree on binding targets to reduce the effects of climate change, and few observers believe any sort of ambitious treaty will come out of Cancun either. Yet President Tong hopes to at least make progress on specific goals like securing funding to help countries like his protect their populations from climate change.

This fits with what seems to be a growing realization among governments and nonprofits that there will be no single “breakthrough” conference where all components of an international effort to curb climate change are addressed. Rather an international treaty is more likely to emerge over the span of the next several years, making Cancun all the more important in laying the groundwork for a legally binding agreement. The fact that a sweeping treaty is unlikely to materialize this year also makes it essential that individual countries continue domestic efforts to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

The Tarawa Climate Change Conference is set to conclude tomorrow, and soon the details of the declaration participating countries have agreed on should emerge. While this gathering in Kiribati is not going to fix climate change single-handed, it very well may help ensure that at least some meaningful deal comes out of Cancun. Meanwhile countries around the world would do well to take a lesson from Kiribati, and get serious about curbing carbon emissions at home.

Photo credit: Luigi Guarino