A question of legacy: EU must step up and lead on climate

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Fiji, a country under threat from climate change, is hosting the COP23. [Brian/Flickr]

Every day our people, the people of island states, are confronted with the harsh realities of climate change. We are reaching a critical juncture in the fight against this change and the European Union should help us by raising its own climate ambition, write Frank Bainimarama and Hilda Heine.

Frank Bainimarama is the prime minister of Fiji. Hilda Heine is the president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

It is not an exaggeration when seasoned politicians, scientists and academics say this is the biggest threat to our planet and existence. Yet the collective speed at which we confront these challenges head-on is of concern.

We are at a critical juncture in this fight, at a point where we know we can still act globally to change the course of human-made climate change or fail to act and face the reverberations of climate, environmental and biodiversity crises for generations to come.

Key opportunities cannot be missed, and this week, the European Union has the opportunity to do its part by committing to a net zero emissions target of 2050 and raising their mitigation target by 2020 to be in line with that goal.

When the 28 leaders meet in Brussels this week, the world will be watching because this is the moment when legacies will be written. Millions of young people have been demanding a response to the climate-change crisis that matches the scale of the emergency.

As small island states, we have been doing our part, and for this momentum not to be lost we need major economies to come in behind us and do the same.

Since the Paris Agreement was achieved in 2015, geopolitics has shifted, elections have changed those in the driving seat, but most importantly we know more now than we did then.

In October last year, the IPCC Special Report on 1.5 Degrees was released, spelling out the sobering science that we have far less time available than we thought to turn the tide. The dramatic, far-reaching, and possibly irreversible consequences of surpassing 1.5 degrees of warming are less than 12 years away.

There are many European leaders who understand this and who also recognise that EU action would have a snowball effect on other major economies. Momentum on this front is growing globally. The United Kingdom, France, Japan and New Zealand have proposed legislation for carbon neutrality by 2050.

Germany and Chile are discussing it. Costa Rica, Denmark and Portugal have set policy positions. Finland is targeting 2035, Iceland 2040, and Norway and Sweden have enshrined their targets – 2030 and 2045 respectively – in law.

However, the fact remains that the Marshall Islands and Fiji are the only two countries to have officially submitted long-term plans to the UN for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Setting a date is the critical first step in developing the strategy of how to get to net-zero. It gives all the relevant stakeholders, government departments, businesses and citizens the signal they need to start achieving that goal.

If two developing countries can develop robust emissions-reduction targets that truly drive us toward the goals we agreed to in Paris, then other nations can, too.

In the Marshall Islands, we are particularly looking into the effect climate change will have on Atoll Nations like our own. We face the threat of losing the ability to viably live on our islands due to sea-level rise. And unlike other vulnerable nations, we will have nowhere else to go, no higher ground.

We don’t have the luxury of waiting to see whether others will step up or not. We are developing our National Adaptation Plan, or as it is becoming colloquially know, our National Survival Plan.

In Fiji, we conducted a climate vulnerability assessment with the World Bank that told us it will take USD$4.5 billion to adapt our economy to the impacts of climate change over the next ten years, which has informed our National Adaptation Plan.

This is nearly equivalent to our entire GDP for a year and if major economies do not start to mitigate emissions fast it will end up costing us, as well as them, a lot more in the long run.

Vulnerable countries have laid the groundwork, and we need to hand the baton on to the EU; we cannot continue to carry the burden on our own. Climate leadership comes down to strengthened climate targets plus long-term plans for carbon neutrality by 2050.

Those able to announce these things at the UNSG’s Climate Summit in September will be at the forefront of climate leadership.

Momentum is growing, but we’re still dangerously off track. The commitments the world has made so far under the Paris Agreement to reduce the emissions are woefully inadequate. We are almost out of time.

If we do not increase these commitments by 2020, the potential impacts will be devastating, and they threaten the lives, homes and livelihoods of people everywhere, not just in countries like ours.

The EU can take a massive step in the right direction by committing to a strengthened target by 2020 and carbon neutrality by 2050. Doing so will begin building the critical mass we need to chart a different course – to a secure, sustainable and prosperous future.

Don’t let us down.

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