Marshall Islands leader calls on climate resilience experts to collaborate in the region

Participants who gathered for the Symposium Prosperity in a Changing Climate in November 2017 came from several states to discuss how we can develop our abilities to adapt to climate change, and share skills and experience with each other.

Adelaide hosted this event, in a State that is actively pursuing a low emissions economy, setting a world leading target for the first carbon neutral capital city.

Senator Christopher Loeak, The Former President of the Marshall Islands, gave a moving keynote address. Known for his important talks to the United Nations and the Marshall Island’s critical role in the historic climate change agreement 2015, he encouraged Australian organisations to partner and support those in the Pacific.

Speaking from the heart about his ancestral home, he said:

“Most people have the chance to visit an island nation at some point. But few people have a chance to visit an atoll nation – formed from old volcanic rims in the middle of the ocean, with spaghetti-like strings of land, often only stretching a few dozen metres across. We have no elevation at all.”

He likened the Marshall Island’s and Australia’s shared experience of nuclear testing to the shared disaster we face now with climate change.

“The Marshall Islands is literally on the front line of this battle. We have no higher ground to go to,” said Senator Loeak. “Just months before the Paris Climate Conference, a single typhoon brought widespread destruction, wiping off the equivalent of above 3 percent of our GDP in one hit. And the year before that, a thousand of our people were left temporarily homeless by a single king tide.

“This is what climate change looks like to us. And it is hard to describe the anguish one feels personally as the leader of a country who ultimately has responsibility for dealing with the worst consequences of humanity, while still knowing that it is going to get worse before it gets better.”

Senator Loeak acknowledged the importance of being ‘a climate president’ at home and on the world stage, the benefit of embracing low carbon technologies to transform the Marshall Islands energy use and called on Australia to play a bigger role.

“We knew that even if we could not make a sizeable dent in global emissions, it was important that we played our part, and that playing our part would help influence others.”

“More than 90% of our vast outer islands spread over a million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean are now completely solarized, and we are pursuing aggressive renewable energy targets in our population centres. The new government has since pledged to go 100% renewable by 2030 and are developing a detailed strategy to get there and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, if not sooner.”

He urged Australian to do more in responding to climate change, strengthen its targets under the Paris Agreement, and voiced his hope that collaboration and partnership across the Pacific family can contribute to future survival and prosperity of the region.

“. . Australia’s potential to be a climate leader also has the potential to drive a new era in its relations with the Pacific region. Australia needs to see our interests as its interests, by being deeply anchored in the region in a way that goes beyond one-way development assistance and instead shows the economic, security and cultural benefits that can flow from this cooperation.”

“We won’t win the fight against climate change if every country – including Australia – does not remain engaged in that fight. To put it simply, you can do more and you must do more. The Pacific is counting on our big brothers and sisters down south.”

“It is important groups like Climate Change Services Australia can look beyond Australia and into the Pacific where your support can be absolutely crucial.”

“By forming collaborative relationships with local organisations, you can make an enormous difference. For example, many local groups and organisations in the Marshall Islands would benefit from having a sister organisation in Australia, or even just a group that could provide support for their governance and finances.”

“I would encourage you to think more about what may be possible in this regard, especially if you can setup some sort of regional assistance framework.”

Senator Loeak spoke about the anguish of reading a report that suggests oblivion for your country.

“You are the one your people look to for assurance, often when you cannot give it.  Ultimately, if we don’t peak global emissions by 2020 and then rapidly reduce them, then it may well be too late for my country. But we simply do not know that yet.”

“We refuse to become so called “climate refugees”. As I told Pacific Leaders at our meeting in 2013, “if the water comes, it comes. Our culture, our language, and our history are embodied in our islands in a way the English language cannot capture. But if we are going to save my country, everyone has to play their part.”

L-R Mark Siebentritt, Climate Change Services Australia, Sandy Pitcher, CE of DEWNR, Uncle Frank Wanganeen, Kaurna Elder, Senator Loeak, Former President of Marshall Islands, Mark Stafford Smith, CSIRO, Andrew Stock, Premier’s Council on Climate Change

Senator Loeak was joined by representatives of the South Australian Government, Lord Mayor Martin Haese, and Red Cross, Investor Group of Climate Change and UK High Commission Climate Council all giving examples of how partnerships are driving innovation in the sector.

These experts were challenged to find more ways to work together, work on how finances can be better mobilized, and how the application of science can help understand likely impacts, protect communities and reap the rewards of businesses that are shifting to new, low carbon products and services.

The themes of the day were to seek more forms of collaboration between our research, private and government sectors and internationally in addressing the pressing issues of climate change and finding solutions for communities and economies in a changing world.

Event Gallery