Leaders of low-lying island States threatened with being flooded out of existence by rising seas again took to the podium of the United Nations General Assembly today to appeal for urgent action even as the Paris Agreement moves forward to counter climate change.
“The futures of the most vulnerable, like my people and my country, are at stake,” President Taneti Maamau of Kiribati told the Assembly’s annual general debate on its third day. “We need a major change of global mind-set, a major change in global development pathways, and a major global change in ways we do business.
“We must do this in order to secure the future of my people, and those sharing the same fate, and to ensure that we are not left behind,” he stressed.
He noted that in some parts of Kiribati, whole villages had to relocate due to severe coastal erosion and flooding, while crops have been destroyed and fresh water is increasingly contaminated by the intruding sea.
“We call for urgent assistance from our UN family and for UN family members to look into their hearts and help us address this looming life threatening issue at the earliest; an issue that cannot wait for the Paris Agreement ratification process to happen,” he said of the accord reached last December to reduce global warming emissions and take other mitigating measures.
“This is an opportunity for us as leaders to push for the early entry into force of the Paris Agreement and transform our world for our generation and, more importantly, for future generations. This is an opportunity for us to take care of each other. And we must do it together, as a family.”
President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands noted that the Paris Agreement shows the international spirit of cooperation and inter-dependency. “I used to be a teacher. So I implore those of you who have not ratified the Paris Agreement to do so as your next homework from this week! It is imperative that Paris enter into force this year. “Of course, I know that Paris is not perfect. We need to do more to increase ambition on mitigation, on adaptation and on finance. We must take every opportunity we can to stay
below l.5 degree limit needed for our survival.”
Turning to her own country’s development efforts, she stressed the role of education and other steps to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that seek to end poverty, hunger and a host of other social ills by 2030.
“Our own national growth and we11-being must be driven by a commitment to improve delivery
on basic social development, our health, food supply and environment, especially targeting the most vulnerable groups in our islands,” she said, noting that the Marshall Islands has the highest rates of diabetes in the world.
“It is a national crisis and our consumption of sugary food and beverages is literally killing us,” she added.