8 February 2024, Geneva, Switzerland  - Meet Leba Gaunavinaka, a dedicated advocate for environment preservation, whose entire career has been a testament to her commitment. Serving as UNOSAT's embedded technical expert within the Government of Fiji's climate change adaptation team, Leba has greatly contributed to shaping climate discussions. Her skills and unique perspective, derived from hands-on experience in the field, provide invaluable insights into the challenges and opportunities faced by the Pacific Islands. As we delve into her experiences at COP28, discover the story of a passionate individual actively contributing to the global effort for climate resilience and adaptation. 

Can you share your overall impressions and experiences at COP28, especially considering your unique perspective as a member of the Fijian delegation? 

I had several opportunities to present UNOSAT’s project in Fiji and the region and discuss how the decision support tools UNOSAT deploys contribute to enhancing resilience through the provision of data and modelling hazards informing processes that help key government actors and stakeholders advance climate actions. It was amazing to demonstrate UNOSAT’s NORAD-funded project activities in Fiji supporting the government’s priorities such as the continued support to the Planned Relocation and the CROC trust fund, Fiji Rural Electrification Fund, and agricultural applications.  

There is a resonating plea voiced across Pacific Small Island States (PSIDS) to back the acceleration of ambition towards the 1.5 degrees target of the Paris Agreement, to ensure the first Global Stocktake effectively assesses the progress of the goals set in the PA with equity considering common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDRRC) in light of different national circumstances. COP28 hopes to outline an ambitious package that will accelerate climate ambitions and actions. 

What does a typical day at the COP look like? 

My engagements include the daily process of contact group coordination for the PSIDs, AOSIS, G77 and China, The GST stream spans from 8 am into mid-night most of the first week as the critical stage of providing technical inputs into the iterative texts under GST and into during the final leg of the political phase of the negotiations the second week with HOD/Ministerial consultations with the presidency on pressing agenda items. This has been a tremendous learning experience on the technical options of addressing the key goals under the Paris Agreement, insights into the mechanisms and political negotiations to tackling climate change and how we may collectively do better going forward. 

Given your background and connection to the Fiji Islands, how do you see the specific challenges and opportunities related to climate change in the Pacific region? 

Fiji is aligned with PSIDS and AOSIS in the pursuit of the 1.5-degree goal, recognizing the incremental nature of this process. We have engaged in discussions with both PSIDS and AOSIS to identify common ground and areas where flexibility is essential. The inclusion of ocean and coastal ecosystems in the GST text is a noteworthy achievement, along with addressing the challenges faced by displaced vulnerable communities and advancing planned relocation efforts. 

We are currently in consultations with G77 and China, exploring points of agreement and disagreement, as well as identifying areas where flexibility is crucial. The outcome of the GST will evaluate the collective efforts of parties in mitigating climate change. This juncture is pivotal, presenting an opportunity to alter our course and establish clear guidelines for adhering to a pathway that ensures we stay within the 1.5-degree limit.  

In your opinion, what are the key messages or insights that the international community should take away from COP28, particularly in terms of addressing climate change impacts in small island nations? 

As we stand at a critical juncture during COP28, there is an urgent need to implement commitments that will propel us toward the ambitious targets outlined in the Paris Agreement. This endeavour requires a concerted effort to mobilize essential financial support, particularly for the most vulnerable communities and developing countries, ensuring a just transition. A unified call resonates for the qualification of references to IPCC model pathways, emphasizing the importance of aligning policies with scientific findings. The resounding commitment remains fixed on the north star of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, underlining the necessity for a determined phase-out of fossil fuels. This collective push signifies a pivotal moment in steering the course toward a sustainable and climate-resilient future. 

Can you highlight any specific projects or collaborations that UNOSAT is involved in to support climate resilience and adaptation efforts in the Pacific region? 

We discussed this project at three of the side events at COP – Fiji’s example on the Nbs Seawalls Project with the Ministry of Waterways and Agriculture – earmarked to rope in 5.8 million dollars to benefit 14 communities. The proposal included GIS mapping support during the scoping works and consultations that went into the initial proposal submissions to the Adaptation Fund board. 

The Planned Relocation Guidelines and development of CRVA were heavily supported by UNOSAT, the CRVA is being contextualized through UNOSAT GIS backstopping support to the technical working group of the Fijian taskforce on planned relocation and displacement. 

How do you envision the role of technology, including geospatial information, in advancing climate action and resilience in the Pacific? 

Tailoring technical support and continued provision of decision support tools customized to meet prioritised ministries’ and sector needs – this is the approach that UNOSAT has taken under the NORAD project to support the Government of Fiji. 

Are there any success stories or positive developments from COP28 that you find particularly inspiring or impactful for the Pacific region? 

There is some commendable progress from COP28 but also still a lot more areas of divergence at this juncture but the situation is now escalated to the political phase to hash out a final COP28 package.  

We are seeing the operationalization of the loss and damage fund as a positive outcome endorsed but certain agenda items still need to outline clear and actionable, transparent and quantifiable pathways towards Paris Agreement alignment and include a commitment to phasing out fossil fuels and ramping up renewable energy in the formal COP outcome. 

I am immensely grateful to my programme, UNOSAT for the opportunity to support this engagement. It offered me the opportunity to meet, network, and learn the depth of science and technologies and the art and politics of negotiations from many experienced negotiators convened from around the world. 

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