Marshall Islands as lone Pacific voice at climate summit pleads for help

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Pacific villagers protest shoreline
Villagers have resorted to using tires and barrels for protection from the sea. Image: Koro Vaka’uta/RNZ Pacific

RNZ Pacific

The Marshall Islands has issued a plea for help and a call to action at the US Leaders Summit on Climate Change.

Addressing the virtual meeting on Friday, President David Kabua laid out the existential threat facing his country and the Pacific.

Kabua was the lone Pacific leader invited by US President Joe Biden to the two-day talks.

Leaders Summit on Climate Change
Leaders Summit on Climate Change 2021

Kabua shared the stage with the world’s biggest economies and pressured those he said held the Pacific’s future in their hands.

President Kabua said there were a series of island nations already feeling the effects of rising oceans.

He said the Pacific now faced an even greater threat.

“We are low-lying atoll nations, barely a metre above sea level,” he said.

‘Navigated our islands’
“For millennia, our people have navigated between our islands to build thriving communities and cultures.

“Today, we are navigating through the storm of climate change, determined to do our part to steer the world to safety.”

Kabua told the world leaders their actions had a direct bearing upon the future of the Marshall Islands and others in the Pacific and beyond.

He called for stronger emission targets, a carbon levy to help the most vulnerable and for 50 percent of climate financing to go towards adapting to the devastating effects of climate change.

“We know what a safe harbour looks like.”

Marshall Islands President David Kabua
Marshall Islands President David Kabua … “Today, we are navigating through the storm of climate change.” Image: Marshall Islands govt

Kabua said the Marshall Islands, with AOSIS, fought for years to create consensus around a 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature goal.

“In 2015, we brought together the High Ambition Coalition to turn the 1.5 to stay alive rallying cry into a goal shared by all parties to the Paris Agreement.”

Role more important today
The role of the coalition is even more important today to ensure that 1.5 remains in reach, Kabua said.

He said the coalition’s key task this year was to ensure that updated national emissions commitments were in line with that goal.

“NCDs are where ambition moves from promise to plan. Given how far off-track the world is today, it is vital that we come together every five years to increase ambition.

“All nations should also be charting long-term net zero strategies and implementation pathways before COP26 in the UK in November.”

Too often, vulnerable countries hear the excuse that steep emissions cuts are too costly, Kabua said.

But he added political signals, especially from the major economies, shaped decisions on investment and innovations for low-carbon pathways.

The Marshall Islands leader said the recovery from covid-19 gave the country a rare chance to invest in a safer and healthier world.

Sector-wide transormations
Sector-wide transformations were possible, he said.

“Together with the Solomon Islands, we are pushing for stronger emissions action at the IMO through a carbon levy to fund research and help the most vulnerable.

“Leading from the front-lines, we were the first to strengthen our NDCs in 2018. And we have a 2050 net-zero strategy paired with an electricity roadmap as our implementation pathway.

“We recently celebrated the success of the Micronesia Challenge and will be joining the Local2030 Islands Network.”

But the President said all this would not be enough if the big emitters failed to act.

We feel the effects of climate change now, he said, and so the Marshalls is leading the way on adaptation.

Kabua said Majuro delivered its Adaptation Communication in 2020 and developing the National Adaptation Plan.

“Accessible financing’
“Adequate and accessible financing is key. And so I support the call for 50 percent of climate financing to go towards adaptation.”

Support for the world’s developing and worst-affected nations was a common theme at the virtual summit.

The issue was raised repeatedly by Biden and leaders from India, China, Germany, the EU and others.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country was providing US$1.5 billion in “practical climate finance, focusing on the blue Pacific family partners in our region”.

Morrison’s New Zealand counterpart, Jacinda Ardern, opened her address to the summit by saying her country’s “Pacific neighbours have identified climate change is the single biggest threat to their livelihoods, security and well being”.

“Our collective goal here at this summit and beyond has to be effective global action on climate change,” Ardern said.

‘Collective commitments’
“That means our collective commitments in 2021 will need to be enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures.”

Developing countries said the United States still owed $US2 billion in aid for transitioning away from fossil fuels that former President Barack Obama had promised but President Donald Trump didn’t pay.

However, Biden delivered new pledges, saying the US would double climate funding help for less wealthy countries by 2024.

That cost would be more than made up for when “disasters and conflicts are avoided,” he said.

For the Marshall Islands and President David Kabua, it is not what the world is going to do to address the climate crisis but more when.

“I’ll conclude by asking my fellow leaders, how will you move from plans to implementation to align with a 1.5 degree future and help others do the same?

“Your answer will define the future for your children and grandchildren, and for mine.”

Pope Francis spells it out
The head of the Catholic Church warned a climate crisis will take on an even greater significance in the post-Covid-19 pandemic world.

In a video recorded in the Vatican, Pope Francis called on the leaders invited to US President Joe Biden’s Summit on Climate Change to ‘do more to protect the gift of nature’.

In his message, to mark Earth Day on Friday – an annual event calling for greater protection of the environment – Pope Francis said covid-19 had proved the global community could work together to tackle a catastrophic threat.

But he said if world leaders were not courageous and truthful in their efforts to combat climate change, the result would be self-destruction.

In 2017, then US President Donald Trump visited Rome and the Pope said said in his address that he had brought up the climate issue in their conversation.

Pope Francis had urged on the race to save the planet.

But a week later after meeting the former American leader, Trump announced the US would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

However, Trump’s successor Biden, a Catholic, appears more on the Pope’s wavelength.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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