Commentary – By Connie Hedegaard
The Pacific region is on the front line of climate change. Its low-lying islands risk being swamped by rising sea levels and their inhabitants forced to emigrate.
In June, exceptionally high tides coupled with storm surges flooded parts of the Marshall Islands capital, Majuro. The rising waters topped the city sea walls. Some islanders were forced to evacuate their homes and a state of disaster was declared.
For the Pacific people, weather extremes are not about a distant future, they have become the new normal. Heatwaves, floods, droughts and rising oceans are the new reality of an ever-warming world.
Scientists have been warning for years that we will have to deal with more severe, more changeable, more unpredictable weather.
Europe and the Pacific region must work together to fight climate change. This is my main priority during my participation in the Pacific Islands Forum in the Marshall Islands.
And we have showed what our joint efforts can achieve. At the UN climate conference in Durban in 2011, Europe and the Pacific region got all countries to agree that we need a new global climate deal by 2015, as well as a process to raise the level of global ambition also in the shorter terms before 2020.
Adapting to change
Europe will continue to assist the Pacific region in its efforts to adapt to the changing climate.
Europe is the world’s leading provider of climate finance and, despite severe economic constraints, we succeeded in delivering just over €7.3 billion (NZ$ 12.4 billion) in “fast start” funding to the most vulnerable developing countries in 2010-2012, slightly beating our own pledge.
And for this year and 2014, several EU member states and the European Commission have pledged to provide €7 billion (NZ$ 11.7 billion), an increase from the past two years.
As the second largest donor in the Pacific region, climate change is at the heart of Europe’s co-operation in the region.
The renewal of our partnership last year will lead to increased development assistance from Europe to help the region cope with the impacts of climate change.
Impacts such as the climate-driven drought, which has led to a severe shortage of drinking water in the northern atolls of the Marshall Islands.
But finance is only part of the story. The world also badly needs a new global, legally binding agreement to cut global greenhouse gas emissions.
We have no more time to lose, if we do not want to further reduce the chances of keeping global warming below 2C.
The drumbeat of warmest-ever years and extreme weather disasters demonstrates that climate change is happening, that it is happening faster than scientists predicted and that it exacerbates a whole range of other global problems, of which the Pacific region will bear the full brunt.
But the world will not be able to prevent climate change from reaching dangerous proportions unless all major economies and emerging economies shoulder their fair share of the global effort required.
I have recently seen attempts to backtrack from the 2015 deadline that all countries agreed to in Durban.
It is in our common interest to push for immediate and more ambitious global climate action for the benefit of our children, our environment and our societies.
The Pacific can count on Europe’s co-operation and ambition. We need to bring all other major economies on board the future climate regime.
Connie Hedegaard is the European Union’s Commissioner for Climate Action.