President Loeak: We must ‘be the leaders we were elected to be’

As world leaders prepare to gather in New York for the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit, the President of the Marshall Islands, Christopher Loeak has issued a powerful call to action on climate change.

In a video address – entitled ‘a clarion call from the climate change frontline’ – Loeak stands in front of the sea wall he had built to protect his family and calls on Heads of State to “be the leaders we were elected to be” when they meet for Climate Summit next week.

He said:

For the Marshall Islands and our friends in the Pacific, this is already a full-blown climate emergency.

Some tell us that we should begin planning to leave. But how can we? And why should we? These islands are our home. They hold our history, our heritage and our hopes for the future. Are the world’s polluters asking us to give up our language, our culture, and our national identity? We are not prepared to do that – we will stay and fight.

Lying an average just two meters (six feet) above sea level, the Marshall Islands is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change.

In the last year alone, the atoll nation has endured two national emergencies as a result of unprecedented droughts in its northern islands, and the displacement of more than 1,000 people due to flooding by massive king tides in the nation’s Capital, Majuro.

“The beaches of Buoj where I used to fish as a boy are already under water, and the fresh water we need to grow our food gets saltier every day,” said Loeak in the address.

Last September, the Marshall Islands hosted the Pacific Islands Forum meeting, where island nations from across the region produced the ground-breaking Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership.

The Declaration includes renewable energy targets from the island nations of the Pacific, and a number of new climate commitments from some of the world’s major emitters, including the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom, Mexico and Japan.

In April, President Loeak was the first world leader to confirm that he would attend the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit, to be hosted in New York next week.

More than 130 world leaders are expected to attend the Summit, which comes just over a year before the deadline for a new global climate treaty, due to be signed in Paris at the end of 2015.

Loeak said leaders have to commit to strong climate action at the meeting.

We must send a strong and united message to the world – and to the people that we represent – that we are ready to do a deal next year. And to avoid the worst impacts of a warmer world, this new deal must capture a vision for a carbon-free world by the middle of the century. Without it, no seawall will be high enough to save my country. Together, we must find the courage to rise to this challenge. It is time to build the greatest climate change alliance the world has ever seen.

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