2 Sep 2013

Next five years seen as crucial window for Pacific to protect itself

5:21 pm on 2 September 2013

A Marshall Islands cabinet minister says the next five years will be the key to protecting Pacific islands from rising sea levels.

The comment from Tony de Brum comes on the eve of the Pacific Islands Forum summit in Majuro.

He says if nothing substantial happens in the next five years the battle is halfway lost.

The Marshall Islands is promoting a Majuro Declaration on climate change leadership to be the signature outcome of leaders' summit.

Mr de Brum says energy has to be focused on climate change because it is a survival issue for the whole world.

TONY DE BRUM: I think that anything to do with climate change is a challenge, a major challenge for anyone. It's a challenge for the biggest, most powerful countries in the world. It'll be even more of a challenge for the smallest, most vulnerable country in the world. But we don't think that we should leave this to others to carry. We think that Pacific leadership should take over. The time for kicking the can down the road, waiting for... 'You go first, you go first, you go first' is over. We need to focus attention on the issue, not only because it is a survival issue for us, but it is, in fact, a survival issue for the world. But maybe the Pacific leadership should pursue two parallel avenues of approach to the problem. One would be to look at it from our own viewpoint, what we need to do to prepare ourselves to do mitigation and adaptation measures. But also, and more importantly, I think, to try and convince those people who continue to spew out these poisons into the atmosphere to stop doing so. Because it's not something that's going to affect only small countries that can be easily plucked up and ripped and put back in the Australian dessert or in Wyoming or someplace else, but a problem that when it gets to the point where we need to displace Marshallese. It is already a threat to the world. The importance of us being chair, Australia being president of the General Assembly and able to pull in meetings at short notice and high levels are required I think is unique to this particular year of the Forum. We need to do what we must do to protect the next 50 years in the next 5 years, and that's the urgency of the whole exercise. We don't have the luxury of making these changes for the next 50 years in order to avoid what's going to happen at the end of that period. If we don't have something going, something substantial going in the next 5, the battle is halfway lost or maybe more than halfway lost. Already we've reached the threshold of 400 parts per million in carbon. We cannot afford to go to the next one, that's 450. Everyone is predicting more than a degree and a half centigrade warming by the end of the century. The picture is not looking very good at this time. We must step it up. There's a lot of officials meetings going on, but it really needs some political leadership and political commitment. Sometimes they tell us that we behave like a tail wagging the dog, but somebody has got to wag him. (Chuckles)