Tributes pour in for Marshallese ‘climate hero’ Tony de Brum

Friends and colleagues remember Tony de Brum as a fighter for nuclear justice and a safe climate future, after his death in Majuro aged 72

Tony de Brum at the 2015 Paris climate summit (Pic: IISD-ENB)


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.”

Obituary: Tony de Brum, 26 February 1945-22 August 2017

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”.

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.

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