Q&A: Storytelling as a model to take climate solutions forward

Luke Daunivalu, Fiji’s chief negotiator at COP23. Photo by: UNFCCC / CC BY-NC-SA

KATOWICE, Poland — The year-long engagement involving political leaders and civil society groups known as the Talanoa Dialogue ended at the 24th Conference of the Parties, with a call for greater urgency in efforts to address climate change.

Officials behind the dialogue hope that the lessons shared during more than 90 global events that made up the process will translate into specific commitments, as parties draft new national plans to address climate change.

The dialogue grew out of Fiji’s presidency at COP23 in 2017 and refers to a Fijian tradition of empathetic storytelling as a means to address a collective problem. The idea was to use this practice to take stock of the existing efforts to address climate change and identify what remains to be done and how to do it. During a series of discussions throughout the year, participants were encouraged to share their experiences and provide ideas for what should come next.

This culminated in a ministerial discussion at this year’s climate talks and the release of a call to action by both the Fijian delegation and this year’s Polish presidency. Devex spoke with Luke Daunivalu, Fiji’s chief negotiator at COP23, about how the process worked and what impact he hopes it will have.

“One of the things that we are hoping we’ll see happen is the U.N. Secretary General’s climate summit next year using the Talanoa model to engage world leaders,” Daunivalu said.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What are the key messages that emerged in the call to action?

“We want constructive engagement, collaboration, everyone doing their part — but doing so with a view to sharing what’s working and what’s not working.”

—  Luke Daunivalu, Fiji’s chief negotiator at COP23

The presidency’s Talanoa call for action was sufficient and strong enough to hopefully inspire and encourage everyone, not just the governments, to do more to address this climate change challenge that we face.

Part of the call was not just to do something — “to take action” — but to work together, which is really the ethos of the Talanoa Dialogue; that we want constructive engagement, collaboration, everyone doing their part. But doing so with a view to sharing what’s working and what’s not working. And that was the consistent theme throughout the call to action.

When Fiji proposed the Talanoa Dialogue, is this the outcome you envisioned?

We envisioned the Talanoa Dialogue culminating in two ways. One is a strong political message and signal being issued by the presidencies that captures the political momentum of the Talanoa Dialogue. And we’ve always felt from the outset that this is a new way of engaging. Initially, there were also some uncertainties, particularly from parties, about how this would go, because it’s a new and innovative way of engaging in the climate process.

Having an outcome that includes the presidencies sending a strong signal, in the end, was more or less an easy landing place.

The second element was having a decision that reflects the work that was done this year. I think we are getting to that place, though there was some strong reluctance initially at the halfway mark this year to having any decision about the Talanoa Dialogue.

In the last couple of months, people started coming around, but only because people realized there’s not so much to worry about from the dialogue. It’s more about what it does to tell or prescribe to parties what to do. That’s really been the consistent position of many countries who traditionally oppose new, innovative things — because of the challenge it poses to national sovereignty.

What concrete results do you hope will come from the dialogue?

“We have to move away from simply making pledges that too often are not fulfilled.”  

We are confident the inputs will inform the nationally determined contributions, but also can reflect this in the language that it helps them enhance the ambition in the preparation of new NDCs.

It’s entirely up to countries and all the other stakeholders who fully embraced this model of engagement and finding solutions to address climate change on how they take it forward. One of the things that we are hoping we’ll see happen is the U.N. secretary-general’s climate summit next year using the Talanoa model to engage world leaders. We hope that we have meaningful engagement — not just the traditional speeches — but equally a meaningful outcome. We have to move away from simply making pledges that too often are not fulfilled. But equally, have a declaration or summary that really does not get taken up afterward.

The engagement that we’ve seen within the format and the context of the Talanoa dialogue has been very useful because people go away having been enriched by the experience and the tangible work by the people who have shared and told stories. That has more impact than simply having an outcome.

About the author

  • Andrew Green

    Andrew Green is a Devex Correspondent based in Berlin. His coverage focuses primarily on health and human rights and he has previously worked as Voice of America's South Sudan bureau chief and the Center for Public Integrity's web editor.