I was there to show solidarity with those suffering the worst impacts of climate change and to draw attention to the innovative climate action underway in the region.
Sea-level rise in some Pacific countries is four times greater than the global average, posing an existential threat to several island States. Oceans are in serious trouble, from coral bleaching to biodiversity loss to plastic pollution. Extreme weather events are on the rise, jeopardizing lives and livelihoods.
Nowhere have I seen the heartbreaking impacts of climate change more starkly than in Tuvalu, a remote coral atoll nation where the highest point is less than 5 metres above sea level. I visited the home of a family who live in a state of perpetual anxiety about inundation by the relentless rising seas just steps away.
I was deeply moved by the warmth of the Tuvaluan people and their intense devotion to their land, way of life and cultural heritage. These communities have contributed almost nothing to climate change -- yet, because of big emitters, they are now fighting to preserve their country’s very existence.
Make no mistake: it’s not just Tuvalu or small islands or the Pacific at stake. It is the whole planet. What is happening to these countries is a sign of what is in store for the rest of us. People all over the world are starting to feel the impacts of the climate emergency – and these will only worsen.
In Tuvalu, I met children who, though young, are already fearful for their future and relying on my generation to secure it.
As Secretary-General of the United Nations I have many battles. But as a grandfather, the struggle against climate change is the fight of my life.
Unfortunately, it is one we are not winning.
If we are to prevail, then we must find the political will to take transformative measures.
We must acknowledge the moral authority of the Pacific nations, frontrunners in the race against the climate emergency. And we must find sustainable climate solutions, invest in renewable energies, and increase resilience and adaptation.
It is essential that the goals laid out clearly by the scientific community are achieved: carbon neutrality by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
My message to governments as the global community pursues those goals is clear, therefore.
First, shift taxes from salaries to carbon. We should tax pollution, not people.
Second, stop subsidizing fossil fuels. Taxpayers’ money should not be used to boost hurricanes, spread drought and heat waves, and melt glaciers.
Third, stop building new coal plants by 2020. We need a green economy, not a grey economy.
What we need is a rapid and deep change in how we do business, generate power, build cities and feed the world.
The last decade has shown that we have the tools to tackle the climate crisis. We can save lives and property, breathe less polluted air, access cleaner water and protect biodiversity. Climate action could also yield a direct economic gain of $26 trillion compared to business as usual through 2030, making it a cost-effective option.
I am convening a Climate Action Summit at the United Nations in September to mobilize political ambition and accelerate achievement of the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. I am asking leaders to come not just with speeches but with plans to transform energy, mobility, industry and agriculture. I am asking for implementation of commitments to climate financing, not out of generosity but enlightened self-interest.
Urgent climate action is a choice we can -- and must -- make. As the people of Tuvalu know all too well: saving them will save us all.