Climate risks are rising - and they are not limited to the islands

by Hilda Heine | Marshall Islands
Friday, 7 September 2018 10:42 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Binata Pinata cleans fish as she sits on the shoreline on Bikeman Islet, located off South Tarawa in the central Pacific island nation of Kiribati May 25, 2013. REUTERS/David Gray

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It's time for action - and the time left is short

Last year, I watched as the temporary seawall shielding my property from the sea fell to the surge of floods, twice. If left unchecked, the ocean that has sustained us for so long will take my home.

For many, the stakes are even higher. Everyone in the Marshall Islands is battling to stay above water, to protect their homes and safeguard their families. They say we will be underwater in the next 20 to 50 years. What of the survival of an entire culture? What of a home for my grandchildren?And while my island nation may be on the frontlines, no country is immune.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is one of the boldest international scientific endeavours: scientists from top-institutes around the world are working together to deliver robust findings that catalogue and project the devastating impacts of climate change. In October, the IPCC will deliver their first major report in four years that will explain what is  going to happen if we allow average temperatures to increase more than 1.5 degrees Centigrade. 

These findings will be extremely important but in the Pacifi, we don’t need the IPCC to tell us what climate change means for our communities, cultures and nations because it is already on the doorstep, it’s in our neighborhoods, it is a scourge in our communities and it threatens our immediate future.

The sea is rising, storms are getting worse, the damage is happening now, communities across the region aren’t waiting for commitments that will take effect over the next few years because they are already beating the waves back.

The unique geographical features of the Marshall Islands, like many other Pacific Nations, mean that everyone is susceptible to the impacts of sea level rise. Everyone here is fighting to survive the next king tide or superstorm, to protect their homes, to preserve the fresh water supply, to ensure the survival of their family and the transfer of culture to the next generation.

This September, under the banner of Rise for Climate, tens of thousands of people will participate in hundreds of actions across five continents in a global mobilization of distributed actions in our towns and cities, universities, places of worship and community spaces to help drive climate action within our communities.

Across the Pacific region, where climate impacts threaten the existence of entire communities and cultures, Pacific Islanders will be petitioning their places of worship and faith institutions to commit to 100 percent renewable energy, once again demonstrating climate leadership on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

Then in November the first ever virtual summit for climate vulnerable countries will take place to build on the release of the IPCC report, lay out the need for greater efforts towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, and put pressure on all governments ahead of the 24th session of the UN climate change conference (COP24) taking place in Katowice, Poland this September.

It is crucial that COP24 secures a decision for all countries to review and enhance their national climate ambition and action by 2020 - vulnerability is not restricted to the boundaries of Climate Vulnerable Forum member countries if warming crosses the 1.5-degree Centrigrade limit. We are all vulnerable.

Already this year we have experienced catastrophic heatwaves in North Africa, Europe, Japan, Australia and Argentina; deadly wildfires in Greece, Sweden and the USA; major water shortages in Afghanistan and South Africa; and extreme storms and flooding in Hawaii and India. 

For nations like the Marshall Islands, Rise for Climate is a vital opportunity to build our strength, to diversify our allies in the fight against powerful economic interests that are doing all they can to resist the end of the fossil fuel era and preserve their status.

If these economic heavyweights allow global warming to raise average surface temperatures by just another 0.5 degrees Centrigrade we can expect to experience more extreme heat-waves, wildfires, droughts, flooding, superstorms and a rise in sea-levels that will wipe many of our nations, cultures and societies off the face of this earth.

But we are not sinking, in the Pacific, we are rising.

Hilda Heine is president of the Marshall Islands.