Faced with existential climate threat, small island nations sound climate alarm at UN

King Tupou VI of the Kingdom of Tonga addresses the General Assembly. UN Photo/Cia Pak

27 September 2014 – In their addresses to the United Nations General Assembly today, King Tupou IV of Tonga, Fijian Prime Minister Josaia V. Bainimarama, and Prime Minister Enele Sosene Sopoaga of Tuvalu, all reaffirmed their commitment to the fight against climate change and for sustainable development amid growing environmental challenges for small island developing States (SIDS).

“We are cognizant that we must be ambitious and transformative in our approach to ensure tangible benefits for our people,” King Tupou, the first of the leaders from the region to address the Assembly said, in reference to the post-2015 development agenda, the environmental and anti-poverty targets now being crafted as a successor framework to the landmark Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are set to expire next year.

“Responsive access to financial resources is needed to cement the adoption of a meaningful Development Agenda and its full implementation,” he continued, adding that the recommendations put forward in the Intergovernmental Report of the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) “should be integrated into the post-2015 development agenda.”

“Without them,” King Tupou warned, “our joint aspirations for sustainable development and economic growth will not be achieved and we will be left behind.”

Turning to the growing threat of climate change, he reminded the gathered delegates that Tonga is ranked the second most vulnerable country in the world to natural disasters, according to the 2013 World Risk Report, and that such vulnerability had recently been made starkly clear in the wake of the Category 5 hurricane which struck the island nation causing one fatality.

“We support the call to urgently address the adverse impact of climate change,” King Tupou stated.

He noted that his country was “incrementally reducing its fossil fuel consumption” in order to mitigate the effects of the climate change threat and pressed the international community and the Security Council to act upon the growing implications of climate change on regional and global security.

In addition, King Tupou called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a Special Representative on Climate Change and Security “to research this linkage and report back to Member States.”

Prime Minister Josaia V. Bainimarama of the Republic of Fiji addresses the General Assembly. UN Photo/Cia Pak

In his address, Fijian Prime Minister Josaia V. Bainimarama similarly called on neighbouring Member States to urgently unite in the implementation of more sustainable and climate-friendly policies, while also criticizing industrialized nations for not doing more to reduce their impact on the environment.

“We need a more concerted effort to strengthen our regional institutions to confront the enormous challenges we face in the Pacific,” Commodore Bainimarama said as he listed population growth, the unsustainable use of the ocean’s natural resources and rising sea levels caused by climate change among the imminent existential threats facing the SIDS.

“History will judge the world’s major carbon emitters extremely harshly unless they take immediate and comprehensive steps to reduce emissions. It is simply not acceptable – purely in moral terms – for the world to allow the small island developing states to sink slowly beneath the waves because of the selfish determination of industrialised nations to protect their own economies,” he continued.

“Time is fast running out and I beg you all to act.”

Commodore Bainimarama also pointed to his own country’s transition to democracy, reminding those gathered in the Assembly that he “kept his promise” to the global community to introduce “the first genuine democracy in Fiji’s history.”

In celebrating his role as the “duly elected Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji,” he noted that although his country laboured for nearly four decades under “a system that was undemocratic, unjust and unfair,” it is now a “transformed nation.”

He indicated that his Government has passed into law a range of social and economic rights in compliance with UN conventions such as the right to economic participation, a just minimum wage, the right to education, housing, health and adequate food and water, and the right to live in an environment free from pollution which, he said, was a principle he hoped “every nation will embrace as we strive for the preservation and protection of our natural surroundings.”

“I am proud to report to you that Fiji is a fairer, more just society, and a more compassionate society as we step up our efforts to alleviate poverty on the back of a rapidly strengthening economy,” he declared.

Prime Minister Enele Sosene Sopoga of Tuvalu addresses the General Assembly. UN Photo/Kim Haughton

Also speaking at the podium, Tuvalu’s Prime Minister, Enele Sosene Sopoaga, also underscored the grave threat to his country posed by climate change and the consequent rising waters of the Pacific Ocean, adding that Tuvalu, like other island nations, was experiencing “unprecedented life threatening impacts from climate change.”

“Tuvalu’s security and survival and the future and human rights of its citizens are seriously being compromised,” he warned delegates in the Assembly. “We cannot continue along this path.”

Mr. Sopoaga urged the UN and Member States to “work harder to address the root causes” of the world’s ongoing crises which, he said, also stemmed from the aftereffects of environmental degradation and climate change. As a result, he suggested an “urgent need for reforms” in the UN Security Council and the expansion of the body’s agenda to include climate change as a central issue.

In addition, he reminded Member States that the entire global community must “step up and take commitments to reduce our emissions and support those that are vulnerable.” To that point, he underscored Tuvalu’s pledge to transforming the country’s electrical grid into one supplied by 100 per cent renewable energy by the year 2020.

“Unless we stop greenhouse gas pollution, we will have failed our future generations,” the Prime Minister concluded. “The future is ours to create. Let us be bold.”

Foreign Minister Arnold Nicholson of Jamaica addresses the General Assembly. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

In his address to the Assembly, Arnold J. Nicholson, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Jamaica, added his voice to the call for greater action against climate change and warned that island nations were faced with calamitous prospects of rising sea-levels.

“While the threats of climate change may be theoretical for some, it is very real for those of us who live in the Caribbean,” confessed Mr. Nicholson.

“In recent years we have had to deal with the increased frequency of hurricanes and their widespread impact on our land, lives and livelihoods. The financial impact of hurricanes adds to the burden of the dire economic challenges that we continue to bear.”

As he underscored the numerous vulnerabilities of the SIDS, Mr. Nicholson called for the concerns of the small island developing states to be addressed in the context of the post-2015 development agenda. He also urged all countries to come together and push for a lasting commitment at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference set for Paris in 2015.

“All countries must be engaged in a cooperative effort to devise an appropriate response to climate change that will result in a steep reduction in global greenhouse emissions,” he said.


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