If you haven’t heard, Fiji will be cohosting COP 23 of the UNFCCC with Sweden this November. This is a pretty big deal because it is the first time a small island developing state has taken this role. As an environmental policy student, and as an American, it is quite the change to see how prominent climate change is in Fiji. The newspaper has a section dedicated to the environment and the UN Oceans Conference is headline news. Fiji is in a tough spot because like the rest of Oceania, their contributions to climate change are minuscule while they are about to face some of its earliest consequences.
At the UN Oceans Conference Fiji made 17 voluntary commitments. One of these was to reduce plastics pollution from single use plastic bags and water bottles. As a newcomer who had spent a few weeks shopping at Fijian grocery stores, this seemed like a bit of a joke. Every time I went shopping I couldn’t get away without a bag even when I brought my own. They would put plastic bags in my reusable. If I forgot the reusable bag they would give me five bags for eight items. It was bit insane.
But within weeks they were finalizing legislation requiring grocery stores to charge FJD 0.10 a bag. A week or two after that it was implemented and suddenly we weren’t getting free bags at grocery stores anymore. In a country where minimum wages is FJD 2.00 an hour, they aren’t about to waste that on a single use bag. Have lived through California’s ongoing multi year plastic bag fight, this was astounding. Within a month, big changes happened. Fiji is a small country–everyone knows each other and their government is still young. They just had a coup about eight years ago. Maybe this law won’t stick and maybe the impact in the bigger scheme of things isn’t huge, but it is amazing how fast things get done when they put their minds to it.