Small island States threatened by rising seas call at UN General Assembly for urgent mitigation

21 September 2016

Small island Pacific States threatened with disappearing under the flood of rising oceans took the podium at the General Assembly today to warn that the United Nations remains their last best hope as climate change outpaces efforts to counter it.

“Twenty-five years ago, the small island developing States cried out for action against human-induced climate change, stressing that we literally face extinction as nations and as oceanic cultures due to surging sea level rise and related consequences,” President Peter Christian of the Federated States of Micronesia told the Assembly’s annual general debate.

“I must concede, Mr. President, that our voices have not been entirely unheard. We stand today, at last, many nations united to confront this dark, glaring reality,” he said, in a reference to last December’s global accord in Paris to reduce global warming emissions, appealing for greater mitigation efforts and financing.

“However, even in the relatively short span of 25 years the relentless advance of climate change has outdistanced the pace of our effort to deal with it, so that today, while all countries must count themselves as vulnerable, the small island developing States are dealing with an already clear and present danger, the result of adverse climate change impacts.”

Mr. Christian turned to other issues, both regional and global, including the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's “ongoing provocative actions and rhetoric, which he condemned, and the need for Russia and the United States to enforce a viable ceasefire in Syria.But he again returned to the existential threat climate change posed for the small island states. “This United Nations remains our last best hope to galvanize the political will and the necessary commitment for our global agenda on climate change,” he stressed.

“Here, from this podium and elsewhere, leaders from small island developing States, like many others, have called upon those Member States of our Organization, and especially those in position of world leadership to step up and take charge in raising the urgency of greater mitigation and finance ambition to implement agreements addressing climate change.”

Nauru President Baron Divavesi Waqa said full implementation of international commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of Agenda 2030 takes on much greater urgency in the face of climate change.

“That is why Nauru was among the first countries in the world to ratify the Paris Agreement. It is encouraging to hear we are on track for entry into force this year. However, it is far too early to celebrate. The Paris Agreement is not the end of our climate work. It is only the beginning,” he said.

”And while Nauru will be among the first to experience the worst impacts, climate change will be your humanitarian challenge as well. The Paris Agreement notwithstanding, these dangerous climate impacts will continue to grow worse over the coming decades. We have little understanding of how our human systems will hold up under climate stress,” he stated.

He cited threats to global supply chains, finance and insurance markets, food and water distribution that form the foundation of modern civilization, with question marks having over such issues as the ability to feed a planet of nine billion people when crop yields are projected to fall or share declining freshwater resources as glaciers disappear.

“Will we be able to protect the millions who are rendered homeless when low-lying coastal areas are inundated?” He asked. “And can these and many other challenges be managed effectively so that we avoid a proliferation of failed states? We are simply not prepared,” he emphasized.

 

♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.

News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

Global Goals ‘simple answer’ to delivering results world so desperately needs – UN Assembly President

While it is evident the 2030 Agenda is being increasingly used as the framework for improved national development plans around the world, “we are far from where we need to be,” the President of the United Nations General Assembly said today, opening the 193-member body’s annual general debate with a strong call to do more to end conflict, erase poverty and bolster human rights for all.