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Pacific Island Nations Tell The World ‘Climate Change Has Arrived’

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"Pacific Island Nations Tell The World ‘Climate Change Has Arrived’"

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Representatives to the Pacific Islands Forum in 2009.

Delegates to the Pacific Islands Forum in 2009.

CREDIT: Phil Walter / Getty Images AsiaPac

“Climate change has arrived,” and the world must act. That’s the message from fifteen nations in the southwestern Pacific, who signed a statement yesterday calling on other countries to join them in “the urgent reduction and phase down of greenhouse gas pollution.”

The statement — called the Majuro Declaration For Climate Leadership — is the product of the 44th Pacific Islands Forum, an intergovernmental meeting of 16 member nations in the southwestern Pacific, which chose climate change as its theme this year. The Declaration was signed on September 5th by Australia, New Zealand, and 13 other Pacific Island nations, and will be presented to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon in an attempt to galvanize action for the next big international meeting on climate change in 2015.

“We’ve had a strong meeting of minds here on the urgency of the problem, but the real work begins now,” said President Christopher Loeak of the Marshall Islands, one of the 13 island nations. “We need the rest of the world to follow the Pacific’s lead.” To that end, the Majuro Declaration also reaffirms the various commitments previously made by the 15 signatories to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions and to get more of their power from renewables. They include:

  • Australia: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 5 to 15 percent below 2000 levels by 2020, and by 25 percent if there is world agreement to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide at 450 ppm. Generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020.
  • New Zealand: Reduce emissions 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and by 20 percent if global agreement is reached. Generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020.
  • Republic of the Marshall Islands: Reduce emissions 40 percent below 2009 levels and generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020.
  • Cook Islands: Generate 50 percent of the inhabited islands’ electricity by 2015, and 100 percent by 2020.
  • Nauru: Generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020.
  • Federated States of Micronesia: Generate 10 percent of the electricity for urban areas and 50 percent for rural areas from renewables by 2020.

This year’s forum included delegations from 13 of its 16 members, as well as representatives from the European Union, China, Japan, the United States, and the top United Nations climate change envoy. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had planned to attend in person, but was forced to deal with the possibility of a U.S. military strike on Syria. Instead, the forum was kicked off by a video message from Kerry, which called the scientific evidence for climate change “irrefutable” and “alarming.”

The stakes for many of the Majuro Declarations’ signing nations are direct and immediate. The language recognizes the countries’ “unique vulnerability to climate change, the predicted catastrophic impacts on the security and livelihoods of our people, and the significant benefits that come with our transition to renewable, clean and sustainable energy sources.” Doug Ramsay, the Pacific Rim manager for New Zealand’s NIWA and a climate change expert, singled out the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu as Pacific island nations that could see the worst case scenario of rising sea levels forcing mass abandonment and population relocation.

The Marshall Islands, home to around 60,000 people and this year’s host for the forum, recently declared a state of national emergency and shipped in desalination plants to fight a severe drought. Then the nation’s capital was swamped by rising tides and storm surges, forcing a temporary closure of its airport. President Loeak called the drought “unprecedented,” and blamed both it and the flooding on climate change.

Referring to his home atoll of Ailinglaplap, President Loeak said, ““the end of the island gets shorter every year.”

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