This year, CIVICUS International Civil Society Week will take place in Fiji, and will allow civil society delegates from around the world to explore the frontlines in the global fight against climate change.
Next month, Fiji will become the first small island developing state to host United Nations climate talks. But this year’s meeting, the 23rd Council of Parties (COP23), will be held a long way from Fiji, in Bonn, Germany at the headquarters of the UN Climate Commission.
From global headquarters – whether in Bonn, Geneva or New York – Pacific island countries like Fiji sometimes seem so far away that they can fall off the map.
Indeed, last year a Fijian colleague attending a UN meeting picked up a world map at a newsagent in New York only to find that the Pacific island countries were missing. She had to unfold the map and turn it over to find Fiji and its neighbours printed on the back.
I would warn those meeting in Bonn against feeling relieved they don’t have to travel too far to Fiji. Indeed, the idea that Fiji is a long way away is a sign of creeping hemispherism.
More accurate, is to think that Bonn is a long way from Fiji.
I’ve encountered many examples of this hemispherism when telling people that this year’s International Civil Society Week (ICSW) will be held in Fiji in December.
“But Fiji is so far away!” people tell me.
The reality is that Fiji and its neighbours are not too far away to experience the impacts of our global problems, especially the damage wrought by global carbon and methane emissions.
Yet unlike many of the world’s biggest emitters, Fiji does not have the resources to deal with the worst impacts of climate change.
In 2016, Cyclone Winston, the strongest storm ever recorded in Southern Hemisphere, hit Fiji leaving tens of thousands homeless and causing billions of dollars worth of damage.
This year’s disastrous hurricane season in the Northern Hemisphere does not bode well for the upcoming tropical cyclone season in the South and proves, we can no longer talk about climate change in future terms. It is already here.
Today we live in a world where there are multiple existential threats to our planet and our rights.
However, there is also a growing feeling of solidarity among those committed to human rights and social justice and a greater recognition than ever before that we must come together, organise and take action to build a more equal, just, sustainable and liveable world for everyone.
The Pacific region has a vibrant diverse civil society, known for their efforts on global issues from tackling climate change, banning nuclear weapons and protecting our oceans.
But many of the countries in the region, along with other small island states around the world, were already struggling with other development challenges, before climate change made things worse.
By bringing together civil society from around the world, ICSW offers an opportunity to strengthen local and regional civil society efforts. Last year’s event, held in Bogota, Colombia, allowed international civil society to see first-hand the efforts of Colombian civil society in peace building. This year, it will allow civil society delegates from around the world to explore the frontlines in the global fight against climate change, including on the increasingly important issue of how we deal with climate-induced displacement.
These efforts have been shown in Fiji’s big presence in foreign diplomacy relative to its size. This includes taking the lead as the first country to officially sign the Paris Climate Agreement and pass it into national legislation.
Fiji is also a leader in climate action. It has pledged to go 100 percent renewable by 2030, alongside other Pacific countries including Vanuatu, Philippines, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu, Palau, and Papua New Guinea.
However their efforts will be futile if the rest of world does not take seriously our commitment to leaving to no one behind in building a more just, inclusive and sustainable world.