As world leaders prepare to discuss climate threat facing the Pacific Islands, EU pledges to provide water to 6,400 islanders
By Sophie Yeo
The EU has pledged €150,000 ($198,285) to help the Marshall Islands recover from extreme flooding and drought.
The announcement came at the start 2013 Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), a meeting billed as a last chance for smaller island states to raise awareness of their risks to climate change before the world will attempt to agree on binding targets in 2015.
The Pacific Islands are considered as being on the frontline of climate change. The Marshall Islands, a group of 29 coral atolls, stand only 2 metres above sea level, and have recently faced extreme flooding and droughts due to rising sea levels.
Across the islands, some 6,400 people are said to be facing water shortages. The money will be used to build an addition 117 water tanks, repair the existing rainwater collection system and provide hygiene promotion information.
Connie Hedegaard, the EU Commissioner for Climate Action, speaking to RTCC just before the meeting, warned that “time is scarce” for the Pacific Islands, and that it was important that those living on the “frontier of climate change must send a strong message to the world”.
She also hopes that the EU could help the proceedings by offering an insight into how binding targets can help, based on their own experience.
“During this crisis that we have been living through in the European Union, if it had not been for binding targets I do not think that our governments would have continued to have a focus on renewables and future energy reductions and energy efficiency,” she said.
“But due to the fact that we had a binding agreement internally, all the member states actually continued their efforts and that’s a very good example – it’s a lesson, I think, that the world could learn from.”
PM Tuvalu: Lets not shift focus away from saving these islands. Urgent need for concrete adaptation to save small islands. Situation is dire
— Kelly Rigg (@kellyrigg) September 2, 2013
The first meeting of leaders and experts dealt with climate change from scientific, legal and security perspectives.
Reggie White, the Marshall Islands’ only meteorologist, warned of the threat posed to the low lying coral atolls that make up the islands by storm surges, which will worsen as sea levels rise.
Michael Gerrard from Columbia Law School spoke of the legal complexities facing the sinking states, and whether an underwater island is able to maintain its sovereignty and maritime rights.
Gerard: “No developed country has expressed any interest in taking in climate-displaced people” but “time must come” for discussion.
— Lisa Friedman (@LFFriedman) September 2, 2013
In a video address to the panel, Mary Robinson, former Prime Minister of Ireland focused on equity and security. Calling climate change the “greatest human rights issue of our time”, she said that the Security Panel should get more involved and adopt a rights-based approach to tackling climate change.
Climate change as a security threat was reinforced by Tony de Brum, the Minister-in-Assistance to the Marshall Islands, who said in one of his opening statements that “The situation we face is as dire as civil war, terrorism or nuclear weapons.”
The practical suggestion of a Carbon Exchange for the Pacific Islands by IPCC scientist Elisabeth Holland, which would make use of the region’s net negative emissions of 784m tons of CO2, with a value of $4.7bn, met with some opposition from the Pacific Island Prime Ministers present at the meeting.
Enele Sopoaga, the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, acknowledged the positive news that the islands had amassed such a large amount of negative emissions through ocean carbon sink holes and forest regrowth but emphasised that the discussion needed to move beyond financial discussions and towards concrete, practical action.
Kelly Rigg, Executive Director of the Global Call for Climate Action, who made a presentation at the meeting, said that the really important aspect of the Majuro Declaration – the agreement which it is hoped will be signed by the end of the week – is the conceptual move it makes from emissions reductions to a complete phasing out of greenhouse gases.
AOSIS Chair @AMBMoses urgently calls for climate leadership saying “it is time to jumpstart the transition to a low carbon economy.”
— Majuro Declaration (@MajuroDec) September 2, 2013
Speaking to RTCC, she said, “I think that the whole notion that we’re actually calling for a phase down, it’s a bit of a sea change in the thinking.
“It’s mind shift between percentage reductions over to complete phase down – we have to get rid of the stuff altogether. I think that’s an important new development in the declaration, if it’s adopted as it is.”
Commissioner Hedegaard emphasised during the panel discussions just how influential the Pacific Islands Forum could be in raising ambition in the lead up to the 2015 climate talks, where the UN will attempt to reach binding agreements on climate change.
She stressed that the PIF discussions held prior to COP17 were instrumental in getting the Durban agreement. The world needs to start taking the 2015 deadline seriously – and it is a deadline, she said, that has already been delayed by too long.
Rigg said, “There was a lot of hope expressed in the whole idea that it will change the frame of the conversation from one of ‘I’m not moving till you move’ to countries taking a leadership position, not because they’re required to, but because it’s the right thing to do.
“I hope that really injects a new sense of momentum into the negotiations.”