Christopher Loeak: Low lying atolls appeal to New Zealand

Christopher Loeak, host of the next Pacific Islands Forum, says leadership needed on climate change

The Marshall Islands has geared up to combat climate change by adapting the outer island communities to solar energy. Photo / AP
The Marshall Islands has geared up to combat climate change by adapting the outer island communities to solar energy. Photo / AP

In the Pacific, we have always looked to Australia and New Zealand as our partners. On climate change, we need them to be leaders.

There is no disputing the significant threat posed by climate change to our Pacific region. This month's report by Prime Minister John Key's chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman warned New Zealand will be at least 2C warmer by the end of this century, bringing on more extremely hot days, lengthier droughts and more acidic oceans.

Numerous reputable reports have forecast that if the world continues with its carbon-intensive ways, global temperatures could rise by 4C or more. This would render the Pacific's lowest lying countries uninhabitable and wreak havoc across the region.

Three of the world's four coral atoll countries lie in the Pacific - the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu. For those of us living just two metres above sea level, the threat could not be closer to home.

Earlier this year, my Government was forced to declare a state of disaster after a prolonged and unprecedented drought in the north, only to be simultaneously hit by a king tide and rising seas that flooded parts of our capital, Majuro, in the south. For us, climate change has already arrived.

This is not the first time we have faced an existential threat. In the aftermath of World War II, we endured 67 nuclear tests, the largest of which was 1000 times more powerful than Hiroshima. Others in the Pacific suffered a similar fate. New Zealand was one of the few countries that came to our aid.

When Prime Minister Norman Kirk sent HMNZS Otago towards Mururoa Atoll in 1973, he told the crew they were on an honourable mission to be "silent witnesses with the power to bring alive the conscience of the world". If it were not for New Zealand's efforts to stop nuclear testing and work for a nuclear-free zone in the South Pacific, the world would be a very different place.

Now once again, the Pacific is fighting for its survival. We need New Zealand to help us lead this fight.

In two weeks' time, the Marshall Islands will host the 44th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' meeting in Majuro. We hope to spark a new wave of climate leadership that will set aside the "you-go-first"attitude that has deadlocked international climate change talks since Copenhagen in 2009.

We have proposed the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership as the meeting's signature outcome. It needs to be a turning point, a catalyst for political momentum and action.

The Majuro Declaration will focus on our collective responsibility to drive an urgent phase-down of greenhouse gas emissions. It will demonstrate the Pacific's leadership in the transition from expensive fossil fuels to safe and sustainable renewable energy.

It will invite our Forum Dialogue Partners - including the US, China, Japan, the EU, India, Canada and Indonesia - to offer new and more ambitious climate commitments, remembering that together, they contribute about 70 per cent of global emissions. And it will call on cities, the private sector and civil society to do their part as well.

Once adopted, we intend to offer the Majuro Declaration as a "Pacific gift" to the world, and present it to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon as he plans his 2014 Climate Change Summit that aims to build a consensus for a new global climate agreement in 2015.

New Zealand can and should do more. New Zealanders are the fifth highest per capita emitters in the world, and Kiwi emissions continue to climb. The Land of the Long White Cloud can best enhance its "clean-and-green" image by stepping up from what it promised to do in Copenhagen.

My country is making strong progress towards its 40 per cent emission reduction target for 2020, and will announce next month that we have fully converted our outer island communities to solar energy. The message is simple: if we can do it, so can you.

We look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Key on his first visit to the Marshall Islands. His Government has been a loud voice for promoting sustainable development, security and prosperity in the Pacific's small island countries, from where a quarter of New Zealand's population hails.

We trust that voice will be even louder as we support New Zealand's bid for a seat on the Security Council from 2015.

In opening the Pacific Energy Summit in Auckland earlier this year, Foreign Minister Murray McCully challenged Pacific leaders and their development partners to turn their words and promises into actions. This September in Majuro, we need to do the same.

We need New Zealand to stand with us in the fight against climate change - not just through aid but through bold and ambitious action in solidarity with the people of the Pacific, both in recognition of the shared threats we face, and mindful of the shared future we must secure.

Follow the build-up to the Majuro Declaration at:
http://www.twitter.com/MajuroDec


Christopher J. Loeak, is President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

- NZ Herald

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