The last time atmospheric carbon dioxide stood at 400 parts per million — more or less where we are today — sea levels were at least 20 metres higher. What will be left of the Pacific island nations and their vibrant cultures when that happens?
The Pacific Island Forum is meeting in the Marshall Islands this week, and the president of the Marshalls, Christopher Loeak is determined to persuade the attendees to sign the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership, calling for greater action on climate change — and for more leadership on the issue from the Pacific’s two great powers, Australia and New Zealand. With Australia locked in the final throes of a general election that seems depressingly certain to lumber them with a climate denier as prime minister, it falls to John Key to act on our neighbour’s life and death struggle.
Unfortunately, it seems Key isn’t keen to listen — unless it’s to the siren voices of the economic interests in NZ that want nothing done. The NZ Herald reports Key’s response to chiding by Marshall Islands deputy premier Tony de Brum :
Mr Key responded by saying he understood the danger the Marshalls faced but New Zealand produced only a small amount of the world’s total emissions and if it reduced its pollution levels it would have little effect on the islands.
De Brum’s reply is a classic of its kind:
… the Marshalls felt New Zealand and Australia, as its “big brothers”, needed to put aside their “you-go-first” attitude and show leadership in the region. Mr de Brum told local media that New Zealand’s new emissions reduction target — 5 per cent below 1990 levels — was a joke.
Key’s response is as leaden and mean-spirited as we’ve come to expect from his government and its spokesmen. Everyone knows and understands that New Zealand and the Pacific Island nations cannot solve the climate problem on their own. But NZ has a long and a proud heritage of going boldly where other countries fear to tread, whether that’s votes for women or marriage equality. What’s at issue is leadership, and building a multilateral response that delivers a future that’s worth having.
Taking on action to reduce emissions, to adapt to the climate change that’s now inevitable, and to help our neighbours is more than a matter of economics. It’s a matter of morality and ethics, and it’s also very much in our own self interest. It’s the right thing to do.
New Zealand is a Pacific nation, geographically, ethnically and in spirit. We who live here, whatever our whakapapa, are linked to the rest of the Pacific by ties that bind more closely than economics or trade. This is our place, our part of the world, and it’s beginning to change rapidly. The Pacific Ocean is girding its loins, starting to lap ever higher up beaches and closer to homes — an inexorable rise that will wipe out whole nations. We have time to turn things around — just barely — but only if we are bold and take the leadership role we should be proud to accept.