AOSIS goes on the defensive after Tuvalu uproar

by Marian Ahn Thorpe

A fluffy halo for Tuvalu

A fluffy halo for Tuvalu Image Source:

Tuvalu’s surprise efforts to open a discussion of their proposed amendment to the Kyoto Protocol (see earlier posts here and here), and the subsequent suspension of negotiations this past Wednesday, continued to generate buzz today at COP as the country parties, NGOs, and the media attempted to gauge the possible fallout.  Environmental NGOs were crowing with praise: Climate Action Network and awarded Tuvalu a “Ray of the Day” award for taking a firm stand for stringent, legally binding commitments.  The media have been reaching for all possible witticisms alluding to the country’s minute size and vulnerability to rising sea levels.  “Tuvalu (!) makes big waves,” quipped the UN Dispatch.

Interestingly, despite all the accolades and colorful metaphors, members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), an intergovernmental organization to which Tuvalu belongs, are on the defensive.  On Thursday, Seychelles Ambassador Ronny Jumeau spoke of the diplomatic challenges facing AOSIS negotiators at a side event on human rights.  “We are having a really difficult time just defending our positions,” said Ambassador Jumeau.  “Those of you who were in the COP yesterday morning, there was a small brouhaha about small islands abandoning the Kyoto Protocol.  Nothing could be further from the truth.”  The Tuvalu proposal, Tuvaluan head negotiator Ian Fry has stated and Jumeau emphasized, would amend the Kyoto Protocol and create a new Copenhagen Protocol with more stringent, legally binding global atmospheric carbon dioxide limits, among other provisions.  The other AOSIS states, and many African states as well, support these ambitious new requirements.

However, it appears from Ambassador Jumeau’s comments today that AOSIS feels vulnerable now that it has taken a stand.  One possible concern is that AOSIS will be perceived as driving a wedge between members of the G77 and China, a usually stalwart negotiating bloc whose alliance has begun to show some cracks recently due to China’s refusal to consider emissions caps (see earlier post).  Jumeau attempted to refute this perception by blaming the hubbub over Tuvalu’s actions on other parties at the talks. “Others in the room took [Tuvalu’s proposal] and raised a fuss, and resulted in the G77 countries arguing each other in the COP.  It just shows you that we have to be on our guard,” he stressed.  “Yesterday when we had our evening meeting, we had to discuss this among ourselves: ‘what happened?’  And the person who spoke from Tuvalu said, ‘I never said that,’ and we also agreed, ‘no, you didn’t said that.’  But it seemed that people in the room were of an interest, distorting what the small islands are saying, so as to take the argument off the targets and put it on something else.”

Are words enough to mend the rift, particularly if they attempt to heal one wound by laying blame elsewhere?  Maybe not.  China’s side discussions with India, Brazil, and South Africa, and its bilateral agreement with the United States in November, demonstrate that China is courting other allies as it looks to create the best negotiating position for itself.  Given the strategic importance of China to the G77, it will be interesting to see if AOSIS backpedals from its bold stance in order to keep China’s support, or if they remain firm in their demand for a stricter climate treaty.