Promoting action to build resilient and sustainable island communities

Regional Ocean Challenges: Pathways to Climate Finance for SIDS

Date: 3 December 2015
Location: UNFCCC COP21, Paris
Host: The Nature Conservancy and GLISPA 
Strategic Priority: Building resilient and sustainable island communities


The Nature Conservancy and GLISPA co- hosted a high-level side event at the UNFCCC COP 21, “Regional Ocean Challenges: Pathways to Climate Finance for Small Island Developing States”. The event was held in the Climate Generations Area at the formal Paris COP Venue at Le Bourget, and was attended by around 100 participants representing a range of government, private sector and civil society groups.


Charlotte Vick of the Sylvia Earle Alliance/Mission Blue moderated the event, which focused on profiling pathways though which Small Island Developing States (SIDS) can secure climate finance. The event showcased the Micronesia Challenge, the Coral Triangle Initiative, the Caribbean Challenge Initiative and the Western Indian Ocean Coastal Challenge as effective frameworks for oceans governance; a high level speaker representing each region outlined the progress and successes achieved to date under each of the Challenges. In addition, the event highlighted the role that regional sustainable finance mechanisms (that either have been or are currently being established to support these frameworks) may play in disbursing climate finance flows. Given that the Paris Agreement endorsed by nearly 200 countries on 12th December includes a requirement for developed countries to provide at least $100 billion USD in climate finance per year by 2020, discussions on how to ensure this funding is able to be responsibly and swiftly channeled are timely.


Distinguished panelists included the Honorable Dr. Spencer Thomas, Grenada’s Ambassador for Multilateral Environmental Agreements, who described progress achieved under the Caribbean Challenge Initiative (CCI), citing the creation of the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund (CBF) as one of the most important achievements to date. In addition to the regional scale CBF, he also described the creation of national level trust funds, which create financial architecture capable of aiding in the distribution of climate and development finance, while at the same time supporting the realization of the ambitious goals of the Challenge. Ambassador Thomas also talked about the enabling factors that underpin successful multi-country collaborations such as the CCI, suggesting that SIDS can benefit from being both collaborative and, in a healthy way, competitive. He used the term “coopetition” to describe this mix of frequent collaboration and competition, through which SIDS “push each other to ensure we have an exchange of innovative ideas [so that] we can all move forward together.”


The Honorable Greg Hunt, Australian Minister of Environment, emphasized the benefit of supporting multi-country collaborations such as the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security, a “very rapid moving regional initiative...and a model for regional cooperation elsewhere”. He noted that the Australian Government was proud to be a long-term supporter for this framework, having contributed $13 million to date in support of a range of practical activities for local marine conservation and climate change adaptation. This support has also included an assessment of different potential sustainable finance models for the CTI, building on lessons learned from both the Micronesia Challenge and the Caribbean Challenge Initiative. Minister Hunt went on to underscore the importance of ecosystems to both climate change adaptation and mitigation, highlighting the role of mangroves in particular, and announced the upcoming launch of another multilateral framework, the Blue Carbon Partnership, which includes the governments of Costa Rica and Indonesia, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, the Secretariat of Pacific Regional Environment Programme, and the World Conservation Union. Minister Hunt emphasized the Australian Government’s interest in improving access to climate finance, particularly given its appointment in November as co-chair to the Green Climate Fund, which recently announced its first tranche of recipients for adaptation funding. According to the Minister, “The beauty of the Green Climate Fund is that it is non-bureaucratic, while its weakness so far is that it has been slow to get money out the door. The priority now will be to identify suitable projects, conduct due diligence, and then get funds flowing quickly”.


Dr. Naoko Ishii, CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) emphasized that “nowhere in the world is the connection between environment and sustainable development so clear as in small island states”, and applauded the Regional Oceans Challenges for their success in the joint pursuit of these two complementary objectives. She outlined the support that the GEF has provided to several of the Challenges, including Micronesia, the Caribbean and the Coral Triangle, and echoed Minister Hunt’s enthusiasm for the CTI, as “a very unique partnership, 6 countries coming together to support a gigantic ocean system, it is...something GEF is very proud to be part of”. Dr Ishii went on to describe a new component to the GEF portfolio, blue bonds. She felt that blue bonds have great potential to ensure that the marine ecosystem is valued by the market, although challenges remain as to how to ensure that sustainable livelihoods are adequately captured and supported within this model. Moderator Charlotte Vick proposed a question to Dr. Ishii, on how new climate finance instruments like the Green Climate Fund might ultimately work together with established institutions like the GEF. In response, Dr. Ishii responded that it is absolutely critical that the two institutions work together, and that given the GEF has been operational for 25 years, the GCF may be able to draw lessons from its experience. Both Dr. Ishii and Minister Hunt underlined the value of having the Green Climate Fund and GEF work in close coordination and cooperation, and mentioned that immediately after the event would be holding bilateral discussions to talk through this exact question.


Representing Solomon Islands, Dr. Melchior Mataki, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology (MECDM), spoke on behalf of the CTI. Dr. Mataki strongly emphasized the role that Regional Challenges like the CTI are already playing in supporting effective climate change adaptation and resilience building, by supporting the sustainable management of natural systems - “Natural Resource Management is essentially adaptation to climate change and mitigation of climate change. This is an important point which I would like to drive home”. Like Minister Hunt, Dr. Mataki underlined the value of the CTI and outlined a range of programs and projects made possible through the framework, including the Women Leaders’ Forum. He also highlighted the strong alignment between the goals of the CTI and Solomon Islands own national climate change policies, as well as role that it has played in incentivizing the allocation of domestic resources to natural resource management, suggesting that “without the CTI, the Ministry would have great trouble making a case for the mobilisation of domestic resources”. Dr. Mataki underscored the importance of identifying and where necessary building finance mechanisms that can support the disbursement of large-scale climate finance, noting that historically there has been a gap between donor requirements and absorptive capacity in SIDS, meaning that funding has not always been straightforward to access, “much to the detriment of Solomon Islands”. He also noted that there are already working examples within the Solomon Islands, such as the Arnavons Community Marine Conservation Trust Fund, upon which to build. Dr. Mataki welcomed an increased focus on transparency within climate finance instruments such as the GCF, as well as the intention by the GEF to further explore blue bonds.


Ambassador Ronny Jumeau, Roving Ambassador for Climate Change and SIDS Issues, Republic of Seychelles, spoke on behalf of the Western Indian Ocean Challenge (WIOCC), as “... the new kid on the block”, noting that the Caribbean Challenge Initiative (CCI) inspired the WIOCC. He strongly emphasized the need for collaboration between island nations not just in the context of the Regional Oceans Challenges, but also in order to address climate change and implement the Sustainable Development Goals, stating “if I’m going to take action locally without looking at what my neighbours are doing or aren’t doing, then I’m wasting my time”. He also outlined one of the major challenges in establishing the WIOCC – engagement not just of island nations, but also including the African mainland as part of the framework. He observed that “if we were going to have a coastal challenge in our region, it would have to include the coast from East Africa coast; From East Africa to Mozambique”, with all of these countries viewing themselves as ‘Indian Ocean Countries’ in order to expand the spectrum of funding available to the regional challenge. He argued that both SIDS and countries with great coastlines share the experience of being “blue economies”, and referred to the ‘Seychelles Debt Swap’ (formally launched at a subsequent TNC/GLISPA event a few days later on 7th Dec 2015) as a major milestone in innovative financing for islands. This $USD 30 million deal was made possible through the contributions of a range of partners including France, the UK, Italy, Belgium and TNC, and will help support the creation of a Marine Spatial Plan across the entire EEZ of the Seychelles, potentially with an additional $20-30m in support to be provided by the World Bank and the GEF. According to Ambassador Jumeau, “for the first time through the MSP, we will know what we have, where it is, what its value is, and what will be costs of developing as a resource or protecting it”, a remarkable achievement which is “not bad for a country with a population of 90,000 people”.


The final speaker was the Honorable Tony de Brum, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Marshall Islands. He described the region of Micronesia as being a “treasure chest”, while emphasizing its extreme vulnerability to climate change; “we’re scattered over an ocean area of 1m sq mi, more than 1000 islands. But we are told that if we don’t do something quickly, that by 2050, there will be no more islands where we are”. He stressed the need to work together to ensure the sustainable management of these resources over the long term; “How will we ensure that it is indeed protected? How do we make that work forever?”, and pointed to progress made under the Micronesia Challenge to this end. One notable achievement includes the creation of the Micronesia Conservation Trust, which is currently seeking endorsement as an implementing agency under the GCF. He reminded everyone that it requires global partnerships to ensure the future success of climate action and thanked the governments of Australia and Germany for their assistance in supporting climate adaptation efforts in Micronesia. Minister De Brum concluded with a call to action, reminding the constituents that “We have a challenge in the next couple days – it’s not a Micronesia Challenge, it’s an earth challenge. Coming together as a group of island citizens, and facing down those who say it is not possible. Bringing in our friends from the LDCs, vulnerable African states, other parts of Asia, to join us in this march for climate sanity. I think we can claim a spot in the leadership position”.


Although the Regional Oceans Challenges are all based on the same model, never before have they all been profiled in a single event, and showcased as tools to address the urgent climate threats faced by SIDS. The event saw high-level representatives from four such challenges collectively emphasise the critical role that these regional frameworks can and already are playing in bolstering their resilience to climate change, by protecting their natural resource base. As the event showed, these regional challenges bring together donors with interests in a range of issues, including natural resource management, biodiversity, the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moreover, these frameworks have either developed, or are in the process of establishing, regional and national level financial architecture that can play an important role in the responsible and rapid distribution of urgently-needed climate finance flows to countries with historically low absorptive capacity.


This event also helped to cement the commitment by high level representatives from each Challenge to ensure their ongoing success, and fostered dialogue and sharing of lessons between mature challenges (such as Micronesia) with more recently established frameworks (such as WIOCC). Finally, it also strengthened relationships both with and between key donors, the Australian Government and the GEF, and implementation partners, such TNC and GLISPA.