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Marshall Islands set to lead the way on climate action

Marshall Islands

Marshall Island’s President Tony de Brum has reaffirmed his commitment to progressive climate action. Creative Commons: Kelly Kigg, 2013

Determined to keep his island from sinking beneath the waves, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands Tony de Brum has reaffirmed his government’s commitment to lead the way on climate change ahead of the Paris conference in 2015.

Speaking to RTCC, on a recent trip to London, he said “carbon free should be the ultimate goal for everyone” and focusing on such a goal would be “win-win” for all countries.

Like many other vulnerable small islands states, the Marshall Islands has risen in prominence over the last year as one of the most progressive voices on climate change, and with it de Brum as a strong advocate for global action on climate change.

Made up of 24 island atolls, many of which sit less than a metre above sea level, the Marshall Islands is on the frontline of climate impacts.

Earlier this year, the country had to declare a state of emergency – the second in two years – after tidal surges imperilled many of the country’s low-lying communities, and the Capital city of Majuro.

The country has also been at the forefront of global climate negotiations in the last year, hosting this year’s Cartagena Dialogue – aimed at accelerating efforts towards a 2015 global climate treaty – and last year’s Pacific Island Forum which saw the signing of the Majuro Declaration calling for a “new wave of climate leadership”.

The international climate negotiations may be notoriously tough, but with their target of limiting warming to only 2C, they are not stringent enough for some of the small island states, for whom even a successful treaty poses an existential threat.

At present, even this modest 2C level of success is by no means a foregone conclusion; while the Marshall Islands are sinking, big emitters such as the US, India and China remain embroiled in largely ideological battles over who should bear the brunt of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions most and first.

Even if the Marshall Islands went carbon neutral today, it would barely make a dent in combatting climate change, where the impacts bear no relation to where the greenhouse gases are being emitted. In 2010, the Marshall Islands had a per capita emissions rate of 2 tons of CO2 for their 53,000 population, compared 17.6 in the US for each of its 317,000,000 inhabitants.

But although the Marshall Islands are a speck on the map compared to these countries both in terms of size and emissions, their vulnerability means that they punch above their weight when it comes to the negotiations.

“I think that we have enjoyed relatively good rapport with development partners, the big states, the big emitters,” says de Brum.

We try and bring to the table what we consider to be the immediate and longer term concerns of the small islands states and to point out that our ambitions and goals are not that much different from those of the developed countries, that the idea of climate change leadership and working towards sensible climate change policies does not necessarily cancel out development.

Read more: RTCC >>

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