Marshall Islands climate ambassador Tony de Brum died aged 72 on Tuesday at his home in Majuro, surrounded by family.
As former foreign minister, he led negotiations for a tough 1.5C global warming limit at the 2015 Paris climate summit. This was crucial to give his low-lying island home a chance of survival amid rising sea levels, he argued.
Having witnessed the harm wreaked by US nuclear bomb tests on Bikini atoll as a child, de Brum was also a lifelong campaigner for reparations and disarmament.
The country’s president Hilda Heine announced his death “with great sadness and a very heavy heart”.
“Tony’s legacy goes beyond our islands, and will go beyond those of us who call the Marshall Islands home,” she wrote in a statement.
“He fought for our independence, he fought against the tyranny of nuclear weapons and for nuclear justice for our people, and he led the international fight against climate change. The very existence of the Paris Agreement owes a lot to Tony de Brum. He was a giant of history, a legend in every meaning of the word, and a custodian of our shared future.”
It follows less than two weeks after the untimely death of 47-year-old Marshall Islands minister Mattlan Zackhras, who had taken on a climate diplomacy role after de Brum lost his seat in parliament in 2016.
Heine added: “While our nation may have lost two of its finest men, and the earth two of its fiercest champions, the best thing we can all do to honour their legacies is to keep up the battle for our future – to which they dedicated their lives. We now carry their torch.”
Diplomats, campaigners and journalists were among those sharing fond memories of de Brum on social media as the news emerged.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific was quick to post a tribute, quoting de Brum as saying: “Our message is simple: if one of the world’s smallest, poorest and most geographically isolated countries can do it, so can you.”
That was shared by former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, who described de Brum as a good friend and “pillar of determination”.
Tony de Brum. Such a good friend, such an inspiring leader, such a pillar of determination. Such a loss. We must fulfill your vision. https://t.co/VncIIzFH2w
— Christiana Figueres (@CFigueres) August 22, 2017
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Marshallese poet (and daughter of Heine) who performed at the UN in 2014, re-dedicated her most famous work to the two climate champions.
Others praised de Brum’s vision, charisma and fighting spirit.
— Melanie Hopkins (@mhopkinsfco) August 22, 2017
— Jochen Flasbarth (@JochenFlasbarth) August 22, 2017
— Thomas Hale (@thomasnhale) August 22, 2017
— Paul Watkinson (@pwatkinson) August 22, 2017
— Teresa Ribera (@Teresaribera) August 22, 2017
Rest in peace to a leader, warrior and hero #TonydeBrum your legacy is one that will be told and taught today and for years yet to come .
— Louisa Movick (@LouisaMovick) August 22, 2017
A profound loss for the Pacific
A true Pacific climate hero.
— Lagi Seru (@lagiseru) August 22, 2017
Feeling sadness as deep as the ocean at the passing away of my brother in arms, fellow island warrior and true hero of humanity Tony de Brum
— Ronny Jumeau (@ronny_jumeau) August 22, 2017
The Marshall Islands lost a giant tonight with @TonydeBrum‘s passing. So grateful to have gotten to know him and visited his beloved RMI.
— Lisa Friedman (@LFFriedman) August 22, 2017
Mother Earth has lost one of her fiercest warriors. The honor of my life to have worked for him & to have come to feel like family. RIP TdB. pic.twitter.com/0XP7YiomRG
— Thom Woodroofe (@thomwoodroofe) August 22, 2017
— Kelly Rigg (@kellyrigg) August 22, 2017
— Marcelo Mena (@marcelomena) August 22, 2017