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Executive Perspectives

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: The view of climate change from 3 islands

You won’t find climate skeptics living on these islands.  For them, climate change equates to being irreparably and deliberately harmed by the rest of the world.

Here are three stories from three different oceans.  These stories multiply and intensify as the sea-levels continue to rise. Imagine how we explain this to generations to come.  Imagine how they will react.


A view from Caribbean island state of Grenada, by Hugh Sealy, Professor at St. George’s University in Grenada and a Lead Negotiator for Small Island States at COP22For people living in small island states, climate change isn’t just a distant threat — it’s an existential one. Rising sea levels fueled by climate change threaten my home in Grenada, as well as the homes of millions of other people across the world.

Climate change also hamstrings our economies, especially those that are still developing. For instance, coastal erosion harms the Caribbean fishing industry and threatens the livelihood of the tens of thousands of people it employs. And its effects are a huge detriment to our tourism industry.

The fate of my home — and countless others in small island states — depends on whether the rest of the world acts to curb the devastating effects of climate change. As one of the lead negotiators for small island states, I helped oversee the Paris Agreement, which articulated clear steps that the world must take to curb the rise in global temperatures. Now it has to fulfill those promises. The very survival of many small island states depends on rapid, multinational action. We have no time to waste.

A view from the South Pacific island state of Nauru, by Rennier Gadabu, First Secretary of Nauru Missions to UN

Like many small island states, Nauru is already experiencing climate change impacts, like erosion and droughts. These have direct implications for our way of life. For example, our island’s small coastal belt is the only habitable land so when that washes away so does the ground we live on, literally.

But as an AOSIS climate change fellow at the United Nations in New York, and now as a member of our Mission staff there, I was also able to see how climate change is inextricably connected to other issues, like public health, peace and security, and the international refugee crisis.

Furthermore, with the United States’ plans for its commitments under the Paris Agreement now in question, it is by no means clear whether the world will act boldly enough to avert the worst impacts of the crisis. A failure to do so could be catastrophic and lead to a cascade of impacts that threaten the world order. These are interesting times indeed.

A view from the Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives, Mr. Ismail Raushan Zahir, Second Secretary of Maldives Mission to UN

As a former Alliance of Small Island States climate change fellow for the Maldives, I perhaps have a unique view of the crisis.

Not only have I witnessed worsening climate impacts on of the world’s lowest lying island nations in my lifetime, like record tidal flooding, coastal erosion, and salt water intrusion into our fresh water sources; I also had a front row seat to the UN climate change negotiations meant to address the crisis.

Both perspectives underscore the urgent need for action—to cut emissions before its too late and continue to build on this unprecedented political momentum for action, before it shifts to other priorities.

Island nations have a critical role to play on both counts, to keep international attention on the danger of inaction and fight for progress like our lives depend on it—because they do.

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