Cartagena Dialogue delegates confronted with climate reality in Marshall Islands

Creative Commons: Kelly Rigg, 2013
Creative Commons: Kelly Rigg, 2013

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As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change met in Japan to warn of increasing temperatures, rising sea levels and the impacts these would have on lives and livelihoods, in the Pacific Ocean last week, politicians were confronted with the reality of climate change first hand.

Faced with the disturbing picture painted by the IPCC if the world fails to take action on climate change, representatives from over 30 countries met last week for the Cartagena Dialogue  – international talks aimed at accelerating efforts towards a 2015 global climate treaty.

Hosted by the Marshall Islands – a low-lying necklace of coral islands, most of which rise less than a metre above sea level – the urgency of responding to climate change was vividly brought home for delegates.

The country, like so many other small island nations, faces the prospect of the relocation of their entire populations, as encroaching sea levels threaten to wipe away their country and their entire way of life.

Last year, Pacific Islands Forum members – led by the Marshall Islands – called for a “new wave of climate leadership” and marked the region’s efforts to accelerate action, when they adopted the Majuro Declaration.

Speaking to delegates at the opening of the meeting, Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak warned that his country would soon resemble of “war zone” and that his people “stand to lose everything.”

He said:

Nowhere else in the world is the threat posed by climate change more immediate and real than it is here. The rising oceans around us, our disappearing coastlines, the increasingly salt in our fresh water, and the corroding coral beneath our feet tell us loud and clear that climate change is here.

The Marshall Islands is a group of 24 atolls lying just north of the equator and halfway between Fiji and Hawaii. For it’s 60,000 inhabitants, climate change is already a daily reality.

In early march, the country was hit by higher-than-usual “king tides” – seasonal tides that are the highest in the year – engulfing the capital and prompting a state of emergency.

The tides came on the back of extreme drought, which had gripped much of the northwest of the country. Similar scenes were witnessed last year.

Loeak said:

 Unlike many world leaders, I know through personal experience just how real the threat and dangers are. The beaches of Buojin Ailinglaplap, where I fished as a boy, are beginning to submerge, and the little island Anebok here in Majuro atoll, which our Ambassador to the UN grew up on, has already been swallowed by the rising ocean.

I – like many Marshallese – have already built a sea wall around my home. But the waves rise higher every month. Our tide gauges do not lie.

In response to the IPCC’s grim findings, and faced with the reality of impacts on the Marshall Islands, those gathered at the meeting agreed on new aims to tackle the effects of climate change.

Delegates agreed to accelerate preparations towards a new global treaty to be agreed in Paris in December 2015, and towards bringing forward country specific emissions reduction targets as early as possible next year.

They also agreed to use the agreement to take vulnerability assessments and adaptation planning to a global level.

Speaking after the meeting, Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony DeBrum said the Cartagena Dialogue group had shifted gears to “raise the political temp in the lead up to this year’s big meetings“.

One such “big meeting” coming up this year is the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon’s climate summit for world leaders in September.

Loeak also used the meeting in the Marshall Islands to become the first world leader to confirm his attendance to the meeting – set to take place ahead of the UN’s General Assembly in New York – and called on other country leaders to follow his lead.

“I will be there,” he told delegates. “And all of your leaders must be there too.”


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