Pacific News Minute: Pacific Island Nations Take Center Stage At UN Climate Action Summit

Sep 25, 2019

Pacific Island nations that played a key part in the Paris Climate Agreement took a prominent role again this week at the UN Climate Action summit in New York.

Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands, said: “This summit must be the moment we choose survival over selfishness, communities over coal and planet over profits.” 

The Marshall islands, with an average elevation  just a little over six feet above sea level, co-hosted an event with Kiribati, which lies just as low.

President Taneti Maamau said that salt water intrusion into reserves of drinking water and food gardens was already an issue for his people, which also affected their health and education. Protesting that not enough was being done, President Heine said: “This is the lens through which history will judge this summit and all of us.”

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not attend, though he was in the U.S., and, in comments to reporters, seemed to dismiss Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speech, saying children shouldn’t be burdened with “needless anxiety.”

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama described storms like Cyclone Winston and Hurricane Dorian as a hellscape that has become the new normal. “Acceptance of this living nightmare is morally unthinkable, and denial is unconscionable,” he said.

Later, Bainimarama announced the creation of a trust fund for climate relocation and displaced peoples. Fiji has already promised to accept climate migrants from Pacific islands that become uninhabitable, but this fund is intended to help Fijian communities flooded by rising seas.

Bainimarama said Fiji’s contribution to the trust fund will be about $5 million a year and added, “We look forward to additional support to undertake this enormous task.”