Pacific Islands call on world leaders to take action, not apologies, at UN summit


The Pacific Islands are on the front lines of climate change. But as the rising seas threaten their very existence, these tiny nation-states will not be overwhelmed without a fight.

For decades, this group has been the world’s moral conscience on climate change. Pacific leaders are not afraid to speak out against the climate policy failures of much larger nations, including Australia, its regional neighbor. And they have a long history of punches above their weight in United Nations climate talks – including in Paris, where they have been credited with helping secure the first truly global climate deal.

Momentum is with the Pacific Island countries at next month’s summit in Glasgow, and they have powerful friends. The UK, EU and US all want limited warming to 1.5 ℃.

This powerful alliance will put screws on the countries that are slowing the global effort to avert catastrophic climate change. And if history is a guide, the Pacific will not let the actions of the lagging nations go unnoticed.

A long struggle for survival

The agitation of Pacific leaders for climate action dates back to the late 1980s, when a scientific consensus on the problem emerged. Leaders quickly realized the serious implications of global warming and rising sea levels for island countries.

Some countries in the Pacific, such as Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and Tuvalu, are mostly low-lying atolls, rising a few meters above the waves. In 1991, the rulers of the Pacific declared “The cultural, economic and physical survival of the nations of the Pacific is in great danger”.

Successive scientific evaluations clarified the devastating threat climate change poses to Pacific countries: more intense cyclones, changes in rainfall patterns, coral bleaching, ocean acidification, coastal flooding and sea level rise.

Pacific states have developed collective strategies to push the international community into action. In previous UN climate talks, they formed a diplomatic alliance with the island nations of the Caribbean and Indian Ocean, which has expanded to more than 40 countries.

The first draft of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol – which required rich nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – was proposed by Nauru on behalf of this Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

Read more: Australia ranks last out of 54 countries for its climate change strategy. The Glasgow summit is a chance to protect us all

Climate change is a threat to the survival of the inhabitants of the Pacific Islands. Mick Tsikas / AAP

Obtain a global agreement in Paris

Pacific states also played a crucial role in negotiating a successor to the Kyoto Protocol in Paris in 2015.

At that time, the UN climate talks were stymied by disputes between rich and developing countries over who was responsible for tackling climate change and what support should be provided to help countries. the poorest to cope with its impacts.

In the months leading up to the Paris climate summit, the late Tony De Brum, then Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Marshall Islands, quietly coordinated a coalition of countries from all walks of traditional negotiation at the UN.

It was a brilliant strategy. During the talks in Paris, membership of this “High ambition coalition”Has swelled to more than 100 countries, including the European Union and the United States, which has been essential in securing the first truly global climate agreement.

When then-US President Barack Obama met with island leaders in 2016, he Noted “We could not have secured a Paris agreement without the incredible efforts and hard work of the island nations.”

The High Ambition Coalition secured a temperature target shared in the Paris Agreement, for countries to limit global warming to 1.5 ℃ above the long-term average. It was not an arbitrary number.

Scientific assessments have clarified The 1.5 ℃ warming is a key threshold for the survival of vulnerable Pacific island states and the ecosystems on which they depend, such as coral reefs.

Read more: Who’s who in Glasgow: 5 countries that could make or break the planet’s future under climate change

coral reef with island in background

Warming above 1.5 threatens Pacific island states and their coral reefs. Shutterstock

De Brum took a mighty slogan in Paris: “1.5 to stay alive”.

The Glasgow summit is the last chance to keep 1.5 ℃ of warming close at hand. But Australia – almost alone among advanced economies – sets the same 2030 target in Glasgow as in Paris six years ago. This despite the Paris Agreement requirement that countries increase their ambition to reduce emissions every five years.

Australia is the largest member of the Pacific Islands Forum (an intergovernmental group that aims to advance the interests of Pacific countries and territories). But it is also a major producer of fossil fuels, which puts it at odds with other Pacific countries on the climate.

When Australia announced its 2030 target, De Brum noted if the rest of the world followed suit:

the Great Barrier Reef would disappear […] so would the Marshall Islands and other vulnerable nations.

Influence in Glasgow

So what can we expect from the Pacific rulers at the Glasgow summit? Signs so far suggest that they will demand that COP26 deliver an outcome to once for all limit global warming to 1.5 ℃.

During pre-COP discussions in Milan earlier this month, vulnerable countries offers countries are required to set new 2030 targets each year through 2025 – a move to align global ambition on a path of 1.5.

President of COP26, Alok Sharma said he wants the summit decision text to include a new deal to keep 1.5 handy.

This sets the stage for a showdown. Big powers like the United States and the EU are ready to work with big negotiating blocs, like the High Ambition Coalition, to put pressure on major issuers who have not yet committed to serious ambition for the horizon 2030, including China, India, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Australia. .

The President of the Pacific Islands Forum, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, has warned The Pacific island countries “refuse to be the canary of the world’s coal mine”.

According to in Bainimarama:

by the time leaders come to glasgow it must be with immediate and transformative action […] come with commitments to serious emission reductions by 2030 – 50% or more. Come up with commitments to go net-zero before 2050. Don’t come up with excuses. This time has passed.

This article is republished from The conversation is the world’s leading publisher of research-based news and analysis. A unique collaboration between academics and journalists. It was written by: Wesley morgan, Griffith University.

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Wesley Morgan is a researcher at the Climate Council

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