With the Pacific region being at the frontline to the impacts of the climate crisis, it cannot settle for anything less than the highest possible climate ambition. This is according to Hon. Bruce Bilimon, Minister of Health and Human Services of the Republic of Marshall Islands, who represented the Pacific as the High-Level political champion on Climate Ambition at the Twenty-Sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland.  

As the Climate Ambition High-Level Champion, he shared his reflections on whether the COP26 outcomes have helped raise climate ambition in addressing the impacts of climate change in the region. 

“In my view, the outcomes of COP26 were mixed, as you might expect from such a complex and high-stakes process,” Hon. Bilimon said. 

“I wish to start with the setback from Glasgow, in particular, the final hour decision to water down the language on coal from phasing it out, to phasing it down.

“For countries like mine that are on a knife’s edge, there is an urgent need for measurable, firm targets to reduce emissions. As stated by RMI during the last plenary of COP26, we accepted that change with great reluctance, only because the other elements in the package represent a lifeline for the Marshallese people,” he added. 

The outcomes on Loss and Damage were also a frustration for the Climate Ambition High-Level Champion, as it is a critical issue for Small Island Developing States, and particularly for atoll nations. He explained that atoll nations are already experiencing Loss and Damage, and can no longer delay making progress on the issue, however sensitive it may be. 

Nevertheless, despite the missed opportunities, the Hon. Minister stated that it was not all bad in Glasgow, and there were still significant wins for climate ambition that should be celebrated.

One such win was the critical agreement to accelerate the timeline for the enhancement of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), for which the moment of accountability has been brought forward to COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. This agreement, according to Hon. Bilimon, was a recognition of the absolute importance of halving emissions in this decade. 

“I think it will be critical that we continue to focus on this deadline throughout the year, and that we ensure that the NDCs delivered in Sharm el Sheik put us on track for a 1.5C future.”

Additionally, the commitment to half inefficient fossil fuel subsidies was recognised by Hon. Bilimon as a critical step towards rationalising Pacific economies, and halting spending on the very thing that most threatens
their future. 

“Even though the final text on coal was not as we had hoped, we can’t forget that this was the first COP outcome with any specific mention of coal at all,” he added. 

Hon. Bilimon stated that the Pacific contingent to COP26 fought hard for an ambitious outcome on adaptation finance, as adaptation is a top priority for low-lying atoll nations such as RMI. The decision to double adaptation finance was welcomed by the Minister of Health and Human Services, who, in his role, understands the vital necessity of preparation and planning to respond effective to reduce the impact of crises. 

He was supported in his role by a small team from the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme who worked with him to ensure that the Pacific’s call for higher climate ambition was amplified at COP26. 

According to the Hon. Minister, the Government of RMI have since developed several policies and actions following the outcomes of COP26, which include the consideration of a climate change legislation to give effect to the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the design of a national policy to address Loss and Damage, as well as agreeing on a national approach to the design of the global goal on adaptation

Minister Bilimon presented during the High-Level Political Champions Roundtable along with the Hon. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Minister of Economy Fiji the COP26 Champion for Climate Finance and Oceans, and Hon Steven Victor, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment of Palau the COP26 Champion for Environmental Integrity.

“The Road to COP27 Pacific Climate Dialogue with UK COP26 Presidency” was held on 23 February 2022.  The hybrid event was a partnership between the UK the COP26 Presidency, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), the Pacific Community (SPC), the University of the South Pacific (USP) and the Pacific Resilience Partnership (PRP).