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Climate School Co-Hosts COP27 Dialogue on Accelerating Climate Breakthroughs in Small Island Nations

On November 9, as part of COP27, the Columbia Climate School helped bring together representatives from small island developing states to discuss how to accelerate climate breakthroughs in these nations that are among the hardest hit by climate change impacts. 

The inclusive dialogue — called a Talanoa dialogue — was convened in partnership with small island developing states (SIDS), the UN High Level Champions, the Local2030 Island Network, Kite Insights, and dozens of other organizations from around the world. The Columbia Climate School’s associate dean for climate action, Rajiv Joshi, helped to facilitate the event with support from program design director Johanna Lovecchio. 

The event assembled more than 100 people of diverse backgrounds, ages, and expertise to share stories of climate action and develop plans to strengthen resilience, accelerate action, and increase the flow of finance. Participants included senators and ministers from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Cook Islands, St Lucia, Jamaica, Palau, Dominican Republic, and many other parts of the world, as well as leaders in business, academic and civil society. 

In the words of one of the event’s opening speakers, Brianna Fruean, a young leader from Samoa, Talanoa means to “open knots, but it also means to pull out the threads, and together we can weave these threads into a new tapestry, and create a vision for a better future.” 

The dialogue began with a powerful musical performance from Mia Kami from Tonga: 

Key takeaways from the discussion included: 

  • The will and ambition of SIDS is not in doubt. It is the will and ambition of others — or rather lack thereof — that is failing to address the needs of SIDS. 
  • Non-state actors shared details of new initiatives that are delivering climate action in SIDS, such as the Lightsmith Group’s water harvesting technology in Papua New Guinea and the Climate Finance Access Network’s expansion to the Caribbean. 
  • SIDS emphasised that breakthroughs must be grounded in SIDS, and built from the bottom up. It needs to be an inclusive process. 
  • More time is needed to dig deeper into the possibilities of what we can achieve together on building a climate-resilient, net-zero future for SIDS. The participants concluded that we should convene more Talanoa to build on the journey we started together. 

The discussions have inspired future thematic dialogues to be held through COP27, and the evolution of a Talanoa Breakthrough Agenda for SIDS, which Columbia hopes to continue supporting as part of its focus on coastal resilience. 

In her opening remarks, youth ambassador Brianna Fruean of Samoa said that “‘Tala’ means ‘untie,’ and ‘noa’ means ‘knot.’ We are coming together today to untie the knot and together build a new tapestry filled with the voices of each other. We are here at COP to do just that.” 

The Climate Action Team — working across Columbia University and the Climate School through the Policy Impact Lab — is looking forward to building on these dialogues to support training, project preparation, and partnership development. The group aims to help climate-vulnerable communities, with a particular focus on small islands developing states where adaptation, resilience, and energy access remain significant challenges, and where delivering on the promise of a 1.5C future is really a question of human survival. 


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