Pacific islands recently hosted a summit designed to increase global efforts against Co2 emissions. Now they hope nations will keep their promises.
Climate change is upon us already, and some countries will feel the effects sooner than others. In the Pacific Ocean, smaller island states are vulnerable to rising ocean levels as the Arctic ice melts as a consequence of increasing carbon volumes released into the atmosphere. That includes the Marshall Islands, a group of 29 atolls and coral islands that are located on an average of two metres above the ocean.
The effects are being felt already. Coastal floods, soil erosion and droughts have hit islands in recent times. Earlier this year, the president of the Marshall Islands, Christopher Loeak, declared a state of emergency after a drought and floods nearly destroyed Majuro, the capital. Its seawall was breached and the airport runway flooded. Some 6,000 people were left to survive on less than a litre of water per day.
Fittingly, the 44th annual summit of the Pacific Islands Forum, in early September, was hosted by the Marshall Islands. The gathering is an international event aimed at increasing the cooperation between governments of the Pacific Ocean. In attendance were representatives from state islands, the EU and Co2 offenders such as China and the United States. Upon their arrival, a warning was sent out. “I say ‘welcome to climate change’ when people come here,” said Loeak. “We will not stop telling people that it is a real issue for humanity. We will be the first to feel it, but it will come to them and they should realise it.”
The summit, of course, had a strong purpose. The target was to bind international leaders to the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership, which commits countries to increase their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and turn to sustainable energy solutions.
The declaration recognises that current efforts are insufficient, and that there needs to be a worldwide coordinated effort towards changing the course. It does not set a limit for by how much Co2 levels should be reduced by within a certain date. Rather, it calls on the gradual phasing out of carbon emission levels over time. “The responsibility of all to act falls to every government, every company, every organisation and every person with the capacity to do so, both individually and collectively,” it says.
In the end, the declaration was signed by 13 Pacific island leaders, as well as Australia and New Zealand. The hope is now that nations will commit more efforts and resources towards saving the Pacific nations – and themselves. After the talks, Loeak released a statement saying he hoped the declaration could be a ‘game changer’ in encouraging further negotiations between nations about curbing global carbon emissions. “We’ve had a strong meeting of minds here on the urgency of the problem, but the real work begins now,” he said. “We need the rest of the world to follow the Pacific’s lead.”
Photos: Christian Wilkinson, Luiz A. Rocha, sunsinger [all via Shutterstock.com].