December 8, 2022

While world leaders from rich nations acknowledge the “existential threat” of climate change, Tuvalu’s Prime Minister, Kosia Natano, is racing to save his small island nation from sinking by raising it 13 to 16 feet (4 to 5 meters) above sea level through land reclamation. .

As experts issue warnings that the Marshall Islands will eventually become uninhabitable, President David Capua The inequality of the sea wall that was built to protect a house flooding another neighboring house had to be reconciled.

This is the reality of climate change: some people talk about it from afar, while others have to live it every day.

Natano and Capua tried to show this fact on Wednesday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. Together they launched the Rising Nations Initiative, a global partnership aimed at preserving the sovereignty, heritage and rights of Pacific atoll nations whose existence is threatened by climate change.

Natano described how sea-level rise has affected everything from the soil his people depend on to grow crops, to homes, roads and power lines being washed away. The cost of earning a living eventually becomes too much, he said, causing families to leave and the nation itself to disappear.

“This is how an atoll in the Pacific Ocean dies,” Natano said. “This is how our islands will cease to exist.”

The Emerging Nations Initiative seeks a political declaration from the international community to preserve the sovereignty and rights of the Pacific atoll countries; Create a comprehensive program to build and finance adaptation and resilience projects to help local communities sustain livelihoods; A living repository of the unique culture and heritage of each Pacific atoll country; And support for obtaining UNESCO’s World Heritage designation.

The initiative has already won the support of countries such as the United States, Germany, South Korea and Canada, all of which have recognized the unique burden that island nations such as Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands must bear.

a Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Released in February outlined the fragility of small island developing states and other global hotspots such as Africa and South Asia, whose populations are 15 times more likely to die from severe weather than the least vulnerable parts of the world.

If warming exceeds a few tenths of a degree, it could result in some areas — including some small islands — becoming uninhabitable, said report co-author Adelle Thomas of Climate Analytics and the University of the Bahamas. On Wednesday, Natano noted that Tuvalu and its Pacific neighbors “have done nothing to cause climate change,” with their contribution to carbon emissions amounting to less than 0.03% of the global total.

“This is the first time in history that the collective action of so many nations has rendered so many sovereign nations uninhabitable,” he said.

Representatives of other countries who attended Wednesday’s event did not shrug off responsibility. But it remains to be seen if they will do enough to turn things around.

Several island nations have pledged money to help island nations pay for early warning systems and upgrade their buildings to a symbol to better protect them from hurricanes and other weather events. But there has been less talk about mitigating climate change and more about how to adapt to the devastation it has already caused.

“We see this train coming, it’s coming down the track, and we need to get out of the way,” said Amy Pope, Deputy Director-General of the International Organization for Migration.

German Climate Envoy, Jennifer Morgan, who also attended Wednesday’s event, spoke about her country’s goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2045. But while Germany remains committed to phasing out coal as an energy source by 2030, it has had to revitalize its coal-fired power plants to continue into the future. Winter amid energy shortages as a result of the Russian war in Ukraine.

For the president of the Marshall Islands, rich nations can do so much more. During his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Capua urged world leaders to take on sectors that depend on fossil fuels, including aviation and shipping. He noted the Marshall Islands’ proposal for a carbon fee for international shipping which he said would “lead the transition to zero-emission shipping, directing resources from the polluters to the most vulnerable.”

Similarly, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has encouraged the pursuit of the world’s largest pollutants. During his opening speech to the assembly on Tuesday, he urged rich countries to do so Taxing the profits of energy companies and redirecting funds to “countries experiencing loss and damage from the climate crisis” and those struggling with rising costs of living.

Meanwhile, as rich nations urge action rather than words in their UN speeches, Capua, Natano and their fellow island nation leaders will continue to grapple with the daily reality of climate change – and will try to survive.

Pia Sarkar, a Philadelphia-based journalist for the Associated Press, is on assignment covering the work of the United Nations General Assembly. Follow her on Twitter at And for more AP coverage of the UN General Assembly, visit

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