Pacific island nations claim US President Donald Trump’s decision to formally withdraw from the Paris climate accord would “undermine American influence and credibility” in the region, which is increasingly coming under the sway of China.
Trump’s administration on Monday began the year-long process to withdraw from the Paris agreement — last week he called the pact “a total disaster for our country” that would hurt US competitiveness.
While Trump has repeatedly questioned the science behind climate change, Tuvaluan Prime Minister Kausea Natano, the Pacific Islands Forum chairman, yesterday said that “the science is non-negotiable.”
“In the postwar period, America has often played a leadership role in supporting multilateralism and promoting a global rules-based system to enable collective responses to international problems,” Natano said in a statement on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, a group of 18 nations. “It is disappointing to see this ethos fade and falter when we need it most.”
Tuvalu has been recognized by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as being “on the extreme front lines of the global climate emergency.”
His criticism comes as China spreads its influence beyond the South China Sea to the South Pacific — a region comprised of island nations traditionally under US hegemony.
Officials in Washington and Canberra are increasingly concerned that China might be seeking to establish military bases in the region.
The Asian powerhouse’s increasing geopolitical influence was seen in September when two Pacific nations — Kiribati and the Solomon Islands — switched allegiance from Taipei to Beijing.
The leaders of Pacific nations have previously criticized Australia’s stance on climate change, with the massive coal exporter still gaining the bulk of its electricity from burning fossil fuels and with no cost penalties in place on polluters.
Up to 1.7 million of the region’s estimated 10 million people could be displaced due to climate change by 2050, the London School of Economics and Political Science says.
“At a time when the Pacific finds itself the focus of much strategic competition, I urge those governments involved to listen to the voice” of nations in the region regarding climate change, Natano said in the statement. “Statements of friendship, expanded aid programs and high-level visits must be better backed by domestic policies, and action to reduce emissions, as outlined in the Paris agreement, in order to avert a climate catastrophe.”
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