Small Island Developing States & COP26: An Interview with James Ellsmoor

by Vincent Diringer (COP team author)

As the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) looms, nations around the world are beginning to announce new goals and targets aimed at tackling the impacts of the climate crisis. While delegates from around the world will descend onto Glasgow for in-depth conversations and negotiations on mitigation measures, many will be keen to have discussions focused on adaptation as well as resilience and capacity-building. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are one such group. The SIDS have been dealing with the impacts of climate change for several decades, witnessing the increasing destruction that it is capable of [1]. 

COP26 will be of special interest to SIDS. The decisions taken in Glasgow will have a direct impact on their interests, and leaders from island-nations have not been shy to confront their wealthier neighbours about their lack of action on climate change [1, 2]. COP26 hosted by the United Kingdom, has announced its intention to have SIDS and other groups of developing nations better represented during the November conference, and have joined them in calling for more immediate climate action [3].

Here to further discuss SIDS and COP26, I am joined by James Ellsmoor , an award-winning entrepreneur and writer who is passionate about climate change advocacy, environmental policy and sustainable energy [4]. His expertise on SIDS has led him to work on the support team for the Republic of the Seychelles at several COPs. In addition to this he is the founder and CEO of Island Innovation, an NGO specialising in promoting the best practices in sustainable development among islands [4, 5].


When did SIDS become a subgroup of climate policy? And what makes them important as a subgroup to consider in terms of economic factors and adaptation?

It’s important to consider SIDS as a subgroup of climate policy because they are affected by climate change particularly intensely, experiencing extreme vulnerability to rising sea levels and environmental disasters. As many SIDS have limited resources and access to finance, their economies can be fragile, and it is therefore important these factors receive specific consideration.

Organisations such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) have helped raise the voices of SIDS. For example, AOSIS had successful influence on the Paris Agreement Negotiations, pushing for SIDS unique needs to be recognised, including greater financial consideration and loss and damage. Organisations such as these have helped to get SIDS on the climate policy agenda and lobby for their specific needs to be taken into account.

Do many SIDS delegates attend COP?

Fourty one SIDS countries are parties to the UNFCCC with representation at the COP. However, it is important to note that SIDS generally are not able to send as many delegates per country as the wealthier nations due to limited resources and smaller governments. This means they work strategically under the AOSIS banner to vote as a block.

To what extent have SIDS contributed to international climate policy?

Despite being the least responsible and most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, SIDS have been true advocates in their global action and response to fighting climate change. This was demonstrated recently at the US Climate Summit, where SIDS leaders called for greater financial contribution from the top emitters, as well as global support and collaboration to mitigate the effects of climate change. 

How important is COP26 for SIDS and island nations in general?

I believe that COP26 will be a defining moment for global climate action and the decisions made by the world leaders at this event will carry significant long term effects for SIDS and island nations. This really is a crucial moment… and support and immediate action is needed on a global scale to support the most vulnerable island nations. Specific attention needs to be made on the availability of funds for climate adaptation for SIDS.

What are your hopes for COP26 overall?

My hopes are that this COP is an event of action with tangible solutions to avert the climate crisis. I hope that island nations, particularly SIDS and the least developed countries are represented and have their voices heard.

I hope that we will see real governmental and financial commitment to accelerate our transition to clean energy technologies in order to reach our net-zero targets. The same can be said in regard to providing debt relief to the most vulnerable nations. The COP needs to amplify pressure on our governments to implement global collaboration for a green and resilient economic recovery post pandemic, as well as urgent action to fight climate change. 

How do you believe SIDS fit into those hopes?

SIDS should be front and centre of COP26 negotiations as they are so disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change. My hope is that we continue to see SIDS leaders at the forefront of the negotiations with the world leaders, as well as organisations like UNFCCC and AOSIS who champion SIDS nations and ensure that their voices are heard. 

Are there any projects you would like to highlight?

Island Innovation  will host the Virtual Island Summit in September, which aims to connect global islands to share ideas, best practices and solutions for sustainable development [5, 6]. Our most recent Summit attracted over 10,000 attendees from more than 500 islands across the world. 

The Virtual Island Summit showcases how effective multilateral communication can help solve the issues facing our planet. Our partnerships on this event with organisations such as AOSIS and Race to Zero have helped us to promote this constructive discussion as well as widen our stakeholder participation.

Our aim is for the Virtual Island Summit to build momentum in the lead-up to the COP. We will be creating an “Island Space” for COP in order to share insight and development related to SIDS and island communities. Our aim is to give islanders a voice in these important conversations, who have first-hand experience of the effects of climate change on their islands.

References

[1] Vincent Diringer, 2019, “Climate Change & Rising Sea Levels are Claiming Their First Victims: Islands”, Impakter,  https://impakter.com/climate-change-rising-sea-levels-claiming-first-victims/, accessed 28/05/2021)
[2] Melissa Clarke, 2019, “Pacific leaders, Australia agree to disagree about action on climate change”, ABC News, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-15/no-endorsements-come-out-of-tuvalu-declaration/11419342, accessed 28/05/2021)
[3] UNFCCC, 2020, “2020 Is a Pivotal Year for Climate: UN Chief and COP26 President”, https://unfccc.int/news/2020-is-a-pivotal-year-for-climate-un-chief-and-cop26-president, accessed 28/05/2021)
[4] James Ellsmoor, 2021, “My Story”, https://www.jellsmoor.com/my-story/, accessed 28/05/2021)
[5] Island Innovation, 2021, “About Us”, https://islandinnovation.co/about-us/, accessed 28/05/2021
[6] Island Innovation, 2021, “The Virtual Island Summit” https://islandinnovation.co/virtual-island-summit-2021/, accessed 28/05/2021)
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