By Aaron Packard –'s Pacific Coordinator.

Last week The Guardian ran a story which claimed that the EU had pledged €90m to finance climate change related projects in the most vulnerable Pacific Island nations. The story also highlighted that the funding required Pacific Island nations to side with the EU’s negotiating stance in UN climate negotiations, and that the funding was in fact just redeployment of development funding already earmarked for the Pacific.

The story however misrepresented the actual pledge made by the EU by 50%, with the headline making the outcome for Pacific Island nations sound more promising than the reality.

The story suggested that the €90m fund was for ‘climate-related’ projects, when in fact only €60m of it is for this purpose, with the remaining third of the fund for ‘strengthening Pacific economic integration through Trade’. The Trade spending will do little to help Pacific Island villages adapt to the already pressing impacts of climate change. It was a small error by The Guardian – to over-inflate the real amount of climate funding by one and a half times, but that €90m figure got picked up by media world-wide (to be fair to The Guardian reporter, the details that the EU provided about the fund are confusing; with numbers pasted across the documents it is hard to work out the amounts they are talking about).

The other important point that is made by The Guardian reporter is the conditionality of the funding – the Pacific must side with the EU negotiating position in UN climate negotiations. While the EU negotiating position is amongst the most progressive of the developing nations, it represents a substantial compromise on what scientists are telling us is safe for our planet and the position that Pacific Island nations currently hold. In 2008, NASA research issued a series of studies showing that the planet faced both human and natural disaster if atmospheric concentrations of CO2 remained above 350 parts per million. We are already at 391ppm and rising at about 2ppm a year.

It’s the number 350 that the climate change campaigning network that I work for, is based, and it is this number that Pacific Island Nations are likely to have to compromise on – in order to side with the EU’s target (and the rest of the ‘developed nations’) of 450ppm. That is no small compromise – because 450ppm as a future means sea level rise of at least one metre in this century, along with droughts and other climate disruption, which the Pacific will see the most deadly impacts from.

However, Pacific Island Leaders are already backed into such a corner that the best option they can see right now is to accept the devastating compromise. The impacts of climate change are already so pressing, and climate finance so slow in coming, that Pacific leaders feel like they have little choice.

Coupled with this compromise is the cruel blow that climate finance, that is being put on the table for adaptation projects in the most vulnerable countries, is all too often just a reshuffling of existing development funding (as The Guardian pointed out). In other words, important funding for healthcare and sanitation projects gets ‘re-prioritised’ or double-counted for climate change adaptation projects, leaving a vacuum in still necessary development funds.

It’s the finance issue that will dominate discussions with government and NGO representatives attending the Pacific Climate Change Roundtable next week in Niue. I’ll be there in my role as the Pacific coordinator. I work with organisers across every Pacific Island nation – from in the cities to the small villages. What these organisers have consistently proven to me is that Pacific peoples already know that climate change is happening, and they want to know more, they want to be part of a global movement that gets to work on the solutions to climate change.

That’s why I will be heading to Niue at the end of the week – and because while governments may claim to represent their people, rarely do they know how to actually engage and activate their people on issues like climate change. Likewise, many highly funded NGOs concentrate on lobbying governments on the top-down policies. All their efforts are important, but they mean real people on the ground often get left out. There is a serious undervaluing of the power that people have to lead change and implement solutions in their own communities. Given the tight corner Pacific Island leaders are in, inspiring residents to action should be a keystone. It is one of the most cost-effective strategies available, and should go hand-in-hand with the top-down strategies that governments naturally tend toward.

That does not by any means let the EU or other developed nations off the hook – they must  accept genuine responsibility for their historic emissions which have created the climate change problems in the Pacific, by ensuring that agreed climate finance is new and not simply double-counted development funds. Just as importantly, they need to get to work on rapid emission reductions in their own countries to put the planet back on the path to 350ppm. But the only hope for this is if citizens around the world speak out and make it happen.

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