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Fiji devastation shows 'urgent need' to adopt new climate deal

by Priya Dadlani | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 24 February 2016 16:35 GMT

Children swim in the Rakiraki River among the Cylone Winston-damaged landscape in Fiji, Feb. 24, 2016 in this image supplied by UNICEF. REUTERS/UNICEF-Sokhin/Handout via Reuters

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“Let's call this the year's first reminder of the urgent need to implement the Paris Agreement,” says Maldives ambassador

LONDON, Feb 24  (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The devastation in Fiji from Cyclone Winston is just one reason a new global climate deal needs to be quickly ratified and put into effect, according to members of a group of highly climate-vulnerable nations.

The category 5 cyclone, one of the strongest ever recorded in the southern Pacific, hit Fiji last weekend, leaving at least 42 dead.

“Let's call this the year's first reminder of the urgent need to implement the Paris Agreement,” Ambassador Ahmed Sareer, the Maldives permanent representative to the United Nations and chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States, said in a statement.

As part of the new climate agreement, countries agreed to make permanent a fledgling mechanism to deal with the so-called “loss and damage” from climate-linked extreme weather and sea level rise. Those could include island states becoming uninhabitable as a result of sea level rise.

Sareer said it was now time to “support the decision on loss and damage with real resources.”

Emmanuel de Guzman, secretary of the Philippines Climate Change Commission, said record storms like Cyclone Winston will bring worsening threatens to vulnerable nations unless climate change can be swiftly curbed.

“This is another painful reminder of why global action on climate change is so urgent and vital. At just one degree of warming experienced today, vulnerable countries continue to bear the brunt of record breaking storms, flooding and weather extremes,” he said.

The Paris Agreement, put in place last December by nearly 200 countries, aims to fight climate change by moving world energy systems away from climate-changing fossil fuels and helping poorer nations adapt to already inevitable impacts of climate change.

The main goal of the agreement is to “keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”

Some of the world’s poorest and most climate-vulnerable nations successfully pushed to include the 1.5-degree Celsius “aspirational” goal at the talks. Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, called that “a major achievement,” noting that “it was the 100 most vulnerable countries against everybody else” at the start of the negotiating process.

De Guzman said that just days before Cyclone Winston struck, Fiji was one of the first nations to ratify the Paris Agreement.

“Vulnerable countries are leading the charge to ensure the regime negotiated in Paris gains legal force as soon as possible,” he said, noting that he hoped other countries “large and small” would soon follow.

Red Constantino, executive director of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, said that beyond ratifying the deal, countries needed to quickly make its provisions part of their national activities.

“Momentum is best expressed not only in concerted action by vulnerable countries to ratify Paris early. It should likewise mean the translation of Paris into a domestic agenda for effective climate action,” he said.

“This is the real force, the ultimate prize, the one goal that should bind vulnerable communities around the world.”

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