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Bringing the Spirit of Talanoa to the Conversation on Climate Change

Thu, 04/19/2018

Fiji Confronts Global Warming

By Greg Lagana, Executive Vice President, MSL Washington D.C.

How does a small island nation of fewer than one million people unite and lead the world to take ambitious action to confront global warming? By asserting its credibility. By being positive and inclusive. By building consensus. And by introducing talanoa to international negotiations.

Talanoa is dialogue based on trust, empathy and the concern for the collective good, and it is a common way that communities in the Pacific solve problems or manage change. It is a kind of engagement that is respectful, honest and cooperative. In the context of climate negotiations, it is based on the understanding that no one person and no one nation, no matter how powerful, can solve the many problems presented by climate change alone.

In 2017, the Republic of Fiji became the first Small Island Developing State to assume the Presidency of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was charged with leading the effort, and Qorvis MSL is proud to provide communications support as part of an integrated team of committed experts. The 23rd Conference of the Parties, known as COP23, took place in Bonn, Germany, in November, but the hard work began many months before and will continue through 2018.

Fiji Confronts Global Warming
Photo credit: UNFCCC

In the year ahead, Fiji is responsible for advancing an intricate negotiation process aimed at finalizing the details of how the Paris Agreement will work in practice, which includes determining how the commitments each nation has made under the treaty will be monitored and implemented. It is also leading the first global exercise, called the Talanoa Dialogue, both to take stock of the collective efforts to reduce emissions and to help countries implement and enhance their climate commitments. To succeed on both fronts, Fiji must exert leadership and earn the confidence of nations, and all other actors, with widely varying points of view on what steps should be taken and what compromises should be made.

Prime Minister Bainimarama began using his position as the incoming president of COP23 to raise the alarm about climate change in the year before the meeting. He called attention in addresses at home and abroad both to the gradual disruptions the world is experiencing—such as warming seas, migration of species, destruction of coral reefs, and steady loss of territory to rising sea levels—and to the immediate calamities that are the result of global warming.

“For humanity to survive, flourish and prosper,” he said, “we have no alternative but to cooperate.” This was a marked change from the spirit at past COPs, when finger pointing and laying of blame were commonplace. Using a common Pacific analogy, Bainimarama reminded the nations and people of the world that “we are all in the same canoe” and that we had to paddle together. “Our story in the Pacific will be your story as well, sooner or later,” he said. “Ultimately, we are all vulnerable and we all must act.”

Talanoa is the means through which Fiji is mobilizing a Grand Coalition of national and subnational governments, business, civil society and concerned individuals to take action on climate change. It is a process of open, constructive and respectful dialogues conducted worldwide that will allow everyone to share their solutions on how to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. If the spirit of talanoa takes root in 2018, it will be the most important legacy of the Fijian Presidency.

Fiji Confronts Global Warming
Photo credit: UNFCCC

The Fijian team developed a very effective communications apparatus to promote, reinforce and amplify its key messages and priorities. From a user-friendly website, a robust social media campaign and effective use of videos, youth engagement, high-profile media interactions and branding and design, Fiji was able to very clearly and consistently communicate its position on the global stage and create an environment that was positive, inclusive and welcoming. Fiji’s leaders delivered more than 50 speeches during the November 2017 conference, and a digital surge with the U.N. Foundation and other groups reached 22 million people in 103 countries and generated more than 136 million impressions. All efforts were focused on raising awareness and building commitment to ambitious action.

Fiji’s Presidency will last until December 2018, when it will pass the gavel to Poland. Until then, it will use its presidency to press hard for greater ambition and accelerated action to mitigate climate change in three ways: by reducing the practices that contribute to it, adapting to the changes that climate change is causing, and providing financing to help the most vulnerable nations do both.  And, of course, continuing and institutionalizing the spirit of talanoa.

Cover photo credit: UNFCCC

Please check out the video that was also produced for this campaign: Inspiring Climate Ambition through the Art of Storytelling


Greg Lagana is responsible for Qorvis MSL’s COP23 work for the Republic of Fiji.  Previously, he spent four years in the White House as a member of the Coalition Information Center staff and then as associate director of the Office of Global Communications.For more than two decades, Lagana served in the U.S. Foreign Service in public diplomacy, public affairs, political and administrative positions with the United States Information Agency (USIA) and the Department of State. In his Foreign Service career, he had overseas assignments in Spain, El Salvador, Ecuador and Italy.

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