While my is­land na­tion sinks, Aus­tralia is do­ing noth­ing to solve cli­mate change

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines / News - Anote Tong

A new re­port by the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change paints a pic­ture of what the world will look like if it gets 1.5°C, and 2°C, hot­ter than prein­dus­trial lev­els.

Half a de­gree of warm­ing may seem tri­fling but, for my coun­try, Kiri­bati, these frac­tional fig­ures are a mat­ter of life and death.

Our whole na­tion is only two me­tres above sea level, and the re­port shows that the dif­fer­ence be­tween 1.5°C and 2°C of warm­ing is sev­eral cen­time­tres of sea level rise. Given that we are al­ready feel­ing the im­pacts of ris­ing wa­ter, ev­ery mil­lime­tre counts.

In­creas­ingly fre­quent king tides and storm surges, floods and longer droughts are new, un­wel­come ad­di­tions to our way of life on Kiri­bati.

Sea level rise is turn­ing our fresh­wa­ter re­sources salty, ren­der­ing the land un­able to grow sta­ple crops such as co­conut and taro, and eat­ing away our shore­line.

We are be­ing told that we may have to aban­don our is­lands, the places where our an­ces­tors have been buried, where our chil­dren have a home and an iden­tity.

If this dis­as­trous out­come comes to pass, my peo­ple will need a place of safety to move to. Rather than be re­garded as “cli­mate refugees” – a term that has no def­i­ni­tion or sta­tus in the in­ter­na­tional le­gal sys­tem – I seek mi­gra­tion with dig­nity for my peo­ple.

As we re­flect on the fright­en­ing fu­ture ahead of us, there is no es­cap­ing the deep in­jus­tice of the fact that, de­spite our neg­li­gi­ble con­tri­bu­tions to green­house gas emis­sions, we are on the front­line of cli­mate change con­se­quences.

Mak­ing mat­ters worse is the fact that in­stead of heed­ing the IPCC’s rec­om­men­da­tion for ur­gent and deep emis­sions cuts to make sure we don’t ex­ceed 1.5°C of warm­ing, in­dus­tri­alised na­tions such as Aus­tralia are do­ing vir­tu­ally noth­ing to solve the prob­lem.

It’s bad enough that the United States, one of the world’s largest pol­luters, has pulled out of the Paris agree­ment. Now, there are rum­blings that Aus­tralian politi­cians want to do the same.

Al­ready, Aus­tralia has one of the high­est per capita emis­sions in the world, and its na­tional green­house gas emis­sions are still ris­ing. The coun­try is twid­dling its thumbs as the win­dow of op­por­tu­nity to keep the peo­ple of the Pa­cific – and Aus­tralia – safe slams shut.

His­tor­i­cally, many in the Pa­cific have re­garded Aus­tralia as a big brother to our re­gion, and looked to the coun­try

for lead­er­ship.

The in­spir­ing ad­vo­cacy of or­di­nary Aus­tralians, busi­nesses, unions, city govern­ments, state govern­ments, churches and NGOs gives us hope that Kiri­bati could have a fight­ing chance at sur­vival.

But the in­ac­tion and re­cal­ci­trance of fed­eral politi­cians makes us de­spair.

As we wit­ness their in­dif­fer­ence to the re­al­ity of cli­mate change, this long­stand­ing friendly re­la­tion­ship is giv­ing way to dis­il­lu­sion­ment and dis­ap­point­ment. We be­lieve Aus­tralia is fail­ing in its duty as a re­gional leader.

The im­pli­ca­tions of this for Aus­tralia’s for­eign pol­icy are im­mense, as the in­roads made by Chi­nese diplo­macy have shown.

Aus­tralia must play a more con­struc­tive role. Ceasing to ap­prove new coalmines would be a good place to start. It must also adopt ob­vi­ous so­lu­tions such as re­new­able en­ergy, which will help bring its emis­sions down to zero.

It’s not just us that stands to gain from this. In Aus­tralia, sup­port­ing these so­lu­tions will also cre­ate new, green jobs, and un­lock bil­lions of dol­lars in eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

And your own coun­try, which has been rav­aged by bush­fires and droughts over the past few months, will also be safer from cli­mate change im­pacts.

Ul­ti­mately, as I head to Aus­tralia later this month for a series of pub­lic lec­tures and meet­ings, I hope to leave the Aus­tralian peo­ple and politi­cians with one sim­ple mes­sage. The fu­ture of Kiri­bati, Aus­tralia and the re­gion is in your hands. It’s time to act.

Anote Tong is the for­mer pres­i­dent of Kiri­bati

Pho­to­graph: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Im­ages

Part of the vil­lage of Eita in the na­tion of Kiri­bati, which is only two me­tres above sea leveland is al­ready feel­ing the im­pact of ris­ing sea lev­els.

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