Small island states set example for large polluters ahead of COP 21

The Republic of the Marshall Islands produces less than 0.00001% of the worlds GHG emissions. [Stefan Lins/Flickr]

As international negotiations begin to slow down ahead of COP 21, small island states have come out fighting for an ambitious climate deal. EURACTIV France reports

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is the first of the small island states to submit its CO2 reduction objectives for the Paris Climate Conference (COP 21) in December.

With its plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 32% by 2025, 45% by 2030, and to aim for zero net emissions by 2050, the island republic hopes to encourage larger emitters to aim for more ambitious targets.

>>Read: Prakash Mathema: Poorest countries have the most to lose at UN climate talks

Unlike the contributions of many large emitters, including Russia and China, the Marshall Islands’ plan is in line with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) for limiting the global temperature rise to +1.5°C.

In a recent report, the International Energy Agency said that the current national contributions to the COP 21 only cover around one third of the effort needed to keep global warming below +2°C.

Laurent Fabius, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said, “I welcome the publication of the Marshall Islands’ national contribution to the COP 21, the first to come from a small island developing state strongly impacted by climate change.”

“This will send a strong signal to the international community,” Fabius added. The October deadline for submissions is fast approaching, but so far only around 50 of the 195 states participating in the negotiations have published their national plans.

Negligible impact

The Marshall Islands’ climate plan highlights the fact that carbon emissions from the republic, whose population is under 53,000, are “negligible in the global context”. The country produces less than 0.00001% of the world’s emissions, while the other end of the scale, the European Union, the United States and China together generate half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“Given its low GDP per capita (approximately $3,600), extreme vulnerability and dependence on external support, the Republic of the Marshall Islands’ proposed targets are ambitious compared to those proposed by other countries,” the national plan states.

Though small island states lack clout in international negotiations, they are among the first to suffer from rising sea levels and the other effects of global warming.

1.5°C target

The objective of the Marshall Islands’ contribution is also to promote the message of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), which is campaigning for the UN negotiations to aim at keeping global warming to +1.5°C, rather than the current target of +2°C.

For many small island states, whose very existence is threatened by rising sea levels, this difference is crucial. The AOSIS warned in June that “entire countries [are] under threat of total inundation, even at 2?C of warming”.

>>Read: Maldives: Many islands will disappear, despite COP 21 agreement

The latest IPCC report found that a global temperature rise of 4°C would cause sea levels to rise one metre by 2100, with devastating consequences for 30% of the populations of island states.

Is there anyone listening?

This message appears to have hit home at the last ministerial meeting in Paris on 21 July.

“All parties have committed to finding a compromise on the big political questions. The discussions have been focusses on several delicate points, for example how to put together a plan to stay below the 1.5° or 2° target,” Laurent Fabius said.

The minister also mentioned his plan to organise a pre-COP 21 meeting in early November, to iron out any remaining problems before the international negotiations in December. 

The group of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) represents islands nations in the Pacific, the Caribbean, the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean with similar development challenges: small populations, limited resources, high vulnerability to natural disasters and external shocks, and high dependency on international exchanges. 

  • October 2015: target date for national contributions for COP 21
  • December 2015: COP 21 in Paris

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