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Sharing the climate burden that falls on small island nations

WGS001B55 Sharing the climate burden that falls on small island nations Shutterstock 688305109

Climate change is very much a product of wealthy industrialised nations - but the worst impact of more frequent and more extreme weather events will be felt far from their shores and borders.


The brunt of the adverse consequences will be borne by those who can least afford it—low-income countries, as detailed in this IMF blog


“People in developing countries are paying a heavy price for global actions beyond their control,” explains Saad Alfarargi, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to development.


Such injustice demands a global response that considers the fact that the actions of one country can have grave consequences elsewhere.


Global citizens


This was a point made clear by US actor Robert De Niro, speaking at the World Government Summit 2018.


“We must identify as citizens of the world not just of our countries,” he told delegates. 


“We have to recognize that we can and do have an effect on our brothers and sisters 10,000 miles away and that our hearts do not make a distinction between unfortunate souls in our country and the ones who live outside our borders.”


One of the clearest impacts of climate change is rising sea levels around small island states.


The latest report from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that global sea levels will rise between 0.3 and 2.5 metres by the year 2100.


Low-lying islands such as the Maldives, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu are in danger, not only because their landmass will be reduced by the encroachment of the sea, but also because sea water will seep into and contaminate fresh water supplies.



The need for resilience


The UAE has taken a stand to try to help countries who are suffering most from extreme weather, by launching a two-year initiative to share and promote climate resilience projects in developing countries.


It has also set aside funds for climate investments. Among the recipients are many of the islands that suffered catastrophic damage during the intense 2017 hurricane season.


Many countries were badly affected, including the islands of Antigua, the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. The island of Barbuda suffered 95% damage to its infrastructure after Hurricane Irma and was left virtually uninhabitable.


It has been granted $1million from the UAE to strengthen its infrastructure and restore utilities among vulnerable groups.


Prime Minister Gaston Browne has outlined plans to use the money to install solar energy to help build a country that is more resilient to such damage, as well as simultaneously improving the island’s green credentials.


Taking a stand


As well as receiving funds from richer countries, smaller states are also fighting harder for their own survival.


The prime minister of the tiny Marshall Islands, for example, was instrumental in applying pressure to the global community in order to hammer out the new rules for shipping emissions that were recently agreed.


Representatives from more than 170 countries spent two weeks at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in London, and finally agreed to cut carbon emissions by at least half by 2050.

As negotiations were underway, David Paul, the environment minister of the Marshall Islands highlighted the plight of his nation. 


“In the next days in IMO we will determine whether Marshallese children born today will have the chance of a secure and prosperous life or will have to leave the land of their ancestors and set sail across the oceans to an uncertain future,” he said.


“I will not go home to my children, and my country’s children, endorsing an outcome from the IMO that fails to face up to the greatest threat of the century.”


Part of the determination came from the fact that the islands are entirely dependent on shipping and home to the world’s second biggest ship registry, behind Panama.


"We're a small country but when it comes to shipping we are a force to reckon with," the minister told the Thomson Reuters foundation after the agreement had been reached.


Combatting climate change requires everyone to work together – from individuals changing their habits, to small nations lobbying for change and to superpowers deciding to take responsibility for their actions.


It is only when all these things are happening together that the world may become a more equitable place.

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