“If we win, then every coastal city in the world wins, every fishing village in the world wins.” — Seychelles Ambassador to the UN Ronny Jumeau
2015 is big year for the world. A final draft of the Sustainable Development Goals are due by the time heads of state gather in New York for the UN Summit in September. Then, six weeks later diplomats gather in Paris for the last best chance at striking a global agreement on climate change. Today we are kicking off a regular series we are calling “Meet a 2015er” that will offer glimpses into the life of the UN officials, NGO people, diplomats and advocates as they help shape the international development and climate change agenda this year.
We kick off this series in with Ronny Jumeau, the Seychelles Ambassador to the United Nations. Jumeau often represents the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) in climate change negotiations, but wants to emphasize that these are his own views.
So, we’re sitting here in a snow storm in New York and you are headed to equally cold Geneva for the adaptation meeting of the UNFCC. Let’s talk about the climate change SDG. What is your role in all these negotiations?
My job is to explain things in a way that people understand, without the jargon. We need to move past that and look at the people involved in climate change. We can’t just focus on the science or graphs and figures.
How are the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) feeling about the pace and status of the climate SDG and the climate talks leading up to Paris?
There are so many issues [left] unresolved [by the Lima round of talks in December]. Everybody’s frustrated. Well, maybe not everybody but if you want a strong, ambitious agreement in Paris of course you’re frustrated!
It’s unfortunate that the climate change process has reached a stage where we always say…at least it’s better than nothing. That’s a poor judgement. We say, ‘it could have been worse.’ Everything could have been worse! As long as you’re not dead, it could have been worse.
Sounds quite depressing for the fate of the climate SDG and Paris agreement.
[Laughing] Most resilient of us all are the islands. We are certainly the ones who smile the most, it’s our way of coping. Once you know the worst that can happen [it’s not so bad] — it’s when you don’t know that is the worst. We already know the bottom line…our countries will disappear. We just don’t want that narrative to take over.
There are countries that have approached us who say, you do know if the science is right, that even if we cut all emissions tomorrow, sea level will continue rising. That’s one of the problems AOSIS faces, but the moment you start that conversation, then no one has to listen to you anymore.
What does that mean for how you look at parallel SDG negotiations and Paris climate talks?
The more we make climate change a development narrative, the more attention we get. Tackling climate change cannot be seen as a barrier to pulling people out of poverty. I think we’ve kept that divorced too much. Between pulling out of poverty and climate change, I know which ones will ‘win votes’ as a politician: it’s the poverty reduction.
Our first priority is to make sure that we are still around! So for us, the SDGs and climate change action are one in the same.
Every year AOSIS has a luncheon with the Secretary General. The last time we had lunch and the Ambassadors were speaking, I told them a weak climate agreement will ensure that the SDGs will not succeed. For the SIDS, there can be no sustainable development if the SIDS are not around [due to the affects of climate change.] They go hand in hand.
Can you explain that a bit further?
Most SIDS are heavily dependent on tourism and fisheries. How can we in the SIDS plan the sustainable development of our fisheries, if we don’t know what ocean acidification is going to do? And that’s a climate issue. So until we know how the climate is going to affect the oceans, we can’t plan our biggest industry. Same with agriculture.
Another example is the airport in Seychelles which [ according to the data] will need a new runway to be built at a level that is higher than the whole airport is currently. We need the additional runway to increase tourism, but how do you build it without knowing how high the ocean level will rise and when?
The Secretary General gets it. His Cabinet gets it. But politics comes into play.
We’ll continue the SDGs, of course, but…everyone is saying: whatever you say in the SDG on climate must not pre-judge the Paris agreement [without understanding] that the two cannot be divorced.
Is there hope for a more effective climate SDG?
I think we’re going to have SDGs that sound strong, but as long as it’s not strong on the financing! They look good, until someone will say ‘by the way, how are we going to pay for all this?’
Is it really about finance?
It’s all about finance. I think the development narrative has more staying power than the climate narrative because development is about the politics of the developing world. It’s more tangible. That’s what people are elected to do; pull people out of poverty, create jobs. The climate part of that is creating ‘green’ jobs.
One of the ways of getting traction for climate is to say you cannot develop without climate action.
It looks like the meeting in Ethiopia [The Conference on Financing For Development to be held in Addis Ababa this July] is everything. I think that meeting is becoming the whole thing, incredibly important. But, I think people will be saying [once they get to Addis], ‘we’re talking about financing for what now?’
If you take development as something separately from climate change, what are we discussing financing exactly – development projects or climate projects? For the SIDS and [Least Developed Countries] they still go hand in hand, especially in financing context.
Is it necessarily a bad thing to be so focused on finance?
When countries like China and U.S. are interested in solar power, its not because of climate change – it’s business and economic development. I’m not going to argue with that though – whatever it takes to get you to the table!
Will the climate SDG and any agreement that comes out of Paris be completely, separately formulated then?
They [SDGs and UNFCCC] will come together but unfortunately after 2015. We’re so focused now on delivering separately the SDGs, post-2015 development agenda, Paris agreement – but they’re all inter-related. I can understand if someone says, ‘look when it comes to climate change, let’s just develop Paris and not complicate it further.
The trouble is on the one hand: delivering it, on the other hand: are we going to deliver something weak and then start talking?
What happens if there is a weak climate SDG and subsequently, a weak deal in Paris? Why should other countries care what happens to the SIDS as a result?
At first we said ‘you can’t wipe out whole countries, ancient cultures, and so on.’ Then we realized, it’s not us vs. them.
If we win, then every coastal city in the world wins, every fishing village in the world wins.
You cannot take a globe and with blue paint, paint out all those little dots because every continental coastline will change too. We would have to redraw every single continent in the entire world. We’re trying now to say: you save us, you’re saving everybody. As long as we stay above water, everybody else does. If you sacrifice us, who’s next? If we go, we won’t go alone. Just because we disappear, at that point we’ll have runaway climate change, it won’t stop with us.