The message of a groundbreaking new international climate report is clear: We need to dramatically slice greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade or say goodbye to capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius. That temperature target is a matter of survival for a number of small island nations.
And in the wake of the new report, island nations are letting the rest of the world know it. In a remarks provided exclusively to Earther, the Fijian prime minister is calling on all countries to get on its level and rapidly wind down carbon emissions.
“The message is clear—collectively, we are not doing nearly enough to confront the greatest threat humankind has ever faced,” Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said. “I call on all national leaders to follow Fiji and the Marshall Islands’ lead and aim higher in your national plans to reduce emissions.”
Fiji was the first country to ratify the Paris Agreement and has a plan to reduce its already minuscule carbon footprint 30 percent by 2030, while also generating 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Fiji is also set to play host to other islands’ climate refugees. Its main island has enough topographic variety that it doesn’t face the existential threats other island nations do. And it’s planning to welcome refugees from low-lying atolls that could become uninhabitable as the seas continue to rise.
Sea level rise means the tide can inundate low-lying areas more often, cause more widespread erosion, and give a boost to dangerous storm surge. It also means saltwater can creep into aquifers, befouling the only stable source of freshwater for many islands. That will likely cause most people to leave long before islands are swallowed whole.
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The cutoff for a relatively safe level of sea level rise is keeping warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius or less. So far, the world is not on track to do that.
“The goals of the Paris Agreement are not yet out of reach, but to achieve them will require a realignment of our priorities and an unprecedented global mobilisation to deliver much stronger Nationally Determined Contributions in line with the 1.5-degree target and a universal commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest,” Bainimarama said.
The 1.5 degree Celsius report also revealed just how high the stakes are for the poorest nations on Earth, according to Robert Sanchez-Rodriguez, who teaches on topics of sustainability and inequality at Mexico’s El Colegio de la Frontera Norte. Sanchez-Rodriguez reviewed the new report’s chapter on these subjects.
“[T]his is broader than just small island states,” Sanchez-Rodriguez said. “The impacts are going to be significant for a number of societies around the world.”
The voices of those most impacted are going to be an increasingly loud chorus at December climate talks in Poland urging developed countries to listen up.