11 Dec 2020

Pacific Islands Forum leaders urged to target worst greenhouse gas emitters for climate action

11:51 am on 11 December 2020

A leading international climate analyst says there will have to be a strong strategic positioning to ensure the Pacific gets the outcomes it needs for the region at next year's COP26 in the United Kingdom.

Pacific Islands Forum Chair and Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano addresses the UN on climate change.

Pacific Islands Forum Chair and Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano addresses the UN on climate change. Photo: Supplied/UN

Samoan-born, New Zealand-based climate scientist Penehuro Lefale said the world's reliance on oil, gas and coal and its inability to find alternatives for "clean fuel" was the problem to the climate crisis.

His comments come as Pacific Islands Forum leaders meet to demand urgent climate action ahead of UN talks on the issue this weekend.

Forum chair and Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano called today's virtual summit, and said Pacific leaders had a duty to encourage the world into purposeful action.

The region's low-lying islands are among the worst affected by the climate crisis with threats of rising seas and increasing cyclones.

Natano said with islands on the front-line of the climate emergency, the forum's global leadership and advocacy was critical.

The forum also aimed to put pressure on world leaders.

Who emits the most CO2?

Lefale said a good place for Pacific leaders to start from would be to focus on who was emitting the most carbon dioxide each year.

Analysis carried out by the organisation Our World In Data each year identified what emissions from each country were.

"I'm focussing on CO2 because that's the prominent gas that causes the problem.

"And by knowing where the actual emissions are coming from then we can really say 'Well this really should be the application of the common but differentiated responsibility'.

"The latest analysis from Our World In Data in October last year (and this is prior to the Covid-19 outbreak) looked at who emits the most fuel in 2017.

"The data shows very clearly by region that Asia is by far the most emitters with 53 percent of CO2 emissions. And China is - by a significant margin - Asia and the world's largest emitter.

"China emits almost 10 billion tonnes each year, which is roughly a quarter of the world's total emissions."

International climate analyst Penehuro Lefale.

International climate analyst Penehuro Lefale. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Christine Rovoi

North America is the next largest gas emitter, with the United States being the worst offender, he said.

Lefale said the North Americas contributed 18 percent of global carbon emissions.

"The third highest emitter is Europe which is interesting at 17 percent of global emissions. And that's for the 28 EU members combined.

"Africa and South America are both at about three percent of the world's emissions."

All up, they comprise about 94 percent of world emissions.

"That means the rest of the world including the Pacific island countries and Australia and New Zealand is at six percent."

Target the worst emitters

In order to address the climate crisis, forum leaders needed focus on the three largest emitters, Lefale said, adding that there was no other way around the issue.

"It's an excellent initiative to continue to put the pressure on those that emit the most and are causing the problem.

"And I think it's a very good way of pushing, continually pushing for ambitious actions at the global level."

There were two things the world could do to solve the climate crisis, Lefale said.

"First is to remove fossil fuel subsidies because the bulk of the global economy is on fossil fuel.

"A lot of the big companies like oil companies, natural gas and coal companies are heavily subsidised by governments to make it cheaper for us - like when you go to fill your car in the gas station.

"So, unless we remove that subsidy, there will be no change to the climate crisis."

A high tide across Ejit Island in Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands on March 3, 2014, causing widespread flooding. Officials in the Marshall Islands blamed climate change for severe flooding in the Pacific nation's capital Majuro.

Flooding caused by huge spring tides which Marshall Islands officials have blamed on climate change. Photo: AFP