While world leaders from wealthy countries acknowledge the “existential threat” of climate change, Tuvaluan Prime Minister Kausea Natano is racing to save his tiny island nation from drowning by raising it 4m to 5m above sea level through land reclamation.
While experts issue warnings about the eventual uninhabitability of the Marshall Islands, President David Kabua must reconcile the inequity of a seawall built to protect one house that is now flooding another one next door.
That is the reality of climate change: Some people get to talk about it from afar, while others must live it every day.
Natano and Kabua tried to show that reality on Wednesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Together, they launched the Rising Nations Initiative, a global partnership aimed to preserve the sovereignty, heritage and rights of Pacific atoll island nations whose very existence have been threatened by climate change.
Natano described how rising sea levels have affected everything from the soil that his people rely on to plant crops, to the homes, roads and power lines that get washed away.
The cost of eking out a living eventually becomes too much to bear, causing families to leave and the nation itself to disappear, he said.
“This is how a Pacific atoll dies,” Natano said. “This is how our islands will cease to exist.”
The Rising Nations Initiative seeks a political declaration by the international community to preserve the sovereignty and rights of Pacific atoll island countries; the creation of a comprehensive program to build and finance adaptation and resilience projects to help local communities sustain livelihoods; a living repository of the culture and unique heritage of each Pacific atoll island country; and support to acquire UNESCO World Heritage designation.
The initiative has already gained the support of countries like the US, Germany, South Korea and Canada, all of which have acknowledged the unique burden that island nations like Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands must shoulder.
A UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released in February spelled out the vulnerability of small island developing states and other global hotspots like Africa and South Asia, whose populations are 15 times more likely to die from extreme weather compared with less vulnerable parts of the world.
If warming exceeds a few more 10ths of a degree Celsius, it could lead to some areas — including some small islands — becoming uninhabitable, said report coauthor Adelle Thomas of Climate Analytics and the University of the Bahamas.
NOT AT FAULT
On Wednesday, Natano said that Tuvalu and its Pacific neighbors “have done nothing to cause climate change,” with their carbon emission contribution amounting to less than 0.03 percent of the world’s total.
“This is the first time in history that the collective action of many nations will have made several sovereign countries uninhabitable,” he said.
Representatives from other nations who attended Wednesday’s event did not deflect responsibility.
However, whether they will do enough to turn things around remains to be seen.
Several have pledged money to help island nations pay for early warning systems, and bring their buildings up to code to better protect them from hurricanes and other weather events.
However, there was less talk of mitigating the problem of climate change and more about how to adapt to the devastation it has already wrought.
“We see this train coming, and it’s coming down the track, and we need to get out of the way,” International Organization for Migration deputy director-general Amy Pope said.
German State Secretary and Special Envoy for International Climate Action Jennifer Morgan, who also attended Wednesday’s event, spoke of her country’s target to reach carbon neutrality by 2045.
However, while Germany remains committed to phasing out coal as a power source by 2030, it has had to reactivate coal-fired power plants to get through the coming winter amid energy shortages as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
For the president of the Marshall Islands, wealthy nations could be doing much more.
During his speech at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Kabua urged world leaders to take on sectors that rely on fossil fuels, including aviation and shipping.
He pointed to the Marshall Islands’ carbon levy proposal for international shipping that he says “will drive the transition to zero-emission shipping, channeling resources from polluters to the most vulnerable.”
POLAND-GERMANY RIFT: Warsaw’s response to Berlin over a NATO system that would increase the alliance’s involvement in the war came as Kyiv accused Russia of war crimes Anti-missile systems that Germany offered to send to Poland should instead go to Ukraine, the Polish government said on Thursday, a proposal that is likely a nonstarter for Berlin because it would significantly ratchet up NATO involvement in Ukraine. Poland’s surprising response to Berlin’s offer was welcomed by Ukraine, which is desperate to protect its airspace as barrages of Russian missiles have knocked out power across the country. German Minister of Defense Christine Lambrecht said that use of NATO defense systems outside its territory needs to be agreed by all member states. “It is important to us that Poland can rely on allies
MONEY-MAKING SCHEME: Some students said they were misled about study or work opportunities, or were not told that they were coming to a self-proclaimed republic Foreign students are big business in northern Cyprus, a tiny, breakaway statelet only recognized by Turkey, but some warn that university recruiters are selling “dreams” in the internationally and economically isolated territory. One Nigerian student, who asked to remain anonymous, said he expected to arrive in the country whose soccer teams compete in European tournaments. Instead, when he saw the currency was the embattled Turkish lira, he realized this was “not the Cyprus I thought it was.” The Mediterranean island is divided between the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus and a northern statelet established after Turkey launched a 1974 invasion in
COUNTERING CHINA: The vice president said on the island of Palawan that the US supports the Philippines ‘in the face of intimidation ... in the South China Sea’ US Vice President Kamala Harris yesterday visited a Philippine island near waters claimed by Taiwan and China to show support for the longtime US ally and counter Beijing’s growing influence in the region. Harris is the highest-ranking US official ever to visit the western island of Palawan, the closest Philippine landmass to the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) in the hotly contested South China Sea. Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire sea and has ignored an international court ruling that its claims have no legal basis. Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam have overlapping claims to parts of
CRACKDOWN ON DISSENT: The prosecution had shelved sedition charges against the six in exchange for the defendants pleading guilty to ‘conspiring’ with Jimmy Lai Six former employees of a now-defunct Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper yesterday pleaded guilty to a collusion charge under the National Security Law that has silenced and jailed most opposition voices in the southern Chinese territory. The staff members of the Apple Daily were arrested last year during a crackdown on dissent after Beijing imposed the sweeping security law in response to the widespread anti-government protests in 2019. They were charged with conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security. The six have been in pre-trial custody for almost a year-and-a-half. The law criminalizes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion