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NEWS: Minister de Brum of Marshall Islands calls for massive global response to climate crisis

In his speech to the Chatham House Climate Conference, Rt Hon Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Republic of the Marshall Islands calls for a ‘Marshall Plan-like response to the climate crisis’ at the Paris climate summit – saying that nations like his depend on highly ambitious, collective action for their very existence. 

Introduced by Simon Maxwell, Executive Chair of CDKN Preceded by keynote speech from Laurence Tubiana, French Special Representative for COP21.

Thank you so much Simon for that very warm introduction. And thank  you also for all the important work that your organisation, CDKN, does  in support of the climate-vulnerable countries of the world. It’s fair to  say that one of the reasons I have the opportunity to bring the unique  perspective of a small atoll country to a conference like this is because of the unique and very passionate work that you and your colleagues do. I thank you – and my country thanks you – for that opportunity.

Thank you also to Laurence for being here with us this morning after what must have been a very testing and grueling week in Bonn. Just over a year ago in Berlin, Laurence and I agreed that in order to achieve success in Paris, we would need a big and broad band of actors all walking in the same direction to achieve the holy grail of a new international agreement on climate change. We called it the Paris Climate Alliance.

Twelve months later, the momentum is palpable. A broader coalition of actors than ever before is coming together with a singular purpose – a safe climate future. Over 150 countries have climate plans on the table, corporate boardrooms are buzzing with new initiatives, and the citizens of the world are speaking with their feet. I am hopeful that the city marches planned for Paris around the world will dwarf the half a million people that flooded the New York City streets last September.

All of this bodes well for a deal in Paris. It is a testament to your personal leadership, Laurence, and that of your President, your Foreign Minister, your government and your people, that we stand on the verge today. I look forward to working together with you and Minister Fabius in the weeks to come, and in the final hours in Paris, to forge the blueprint we need to make the Paris Climate alliance the defining movement of our generation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here today at Chatham House. Many of you will not be aware that I was due to speak here at this event two years ago. I had to pull out, and stay in my capital, Majuro, as a typhoon raged across the Pacific.

Earlier that year, in May 2013, my Government had been forced to declare a State of Disaster after a prolonged drought across our northern atolls left many of our people without food and water. And then, just as help arrived from our international friends, a king tide and rising oceans inundated Majuro, forcing the closure of our airport and flooding many homes. Two climate disasters in less than two months.

In the 18 months that followed, Majuro was inundated again twice, and we narrowly avoided the destructive path of numerous super storms and typhoons that have permanently scarred the islands of our friends in Micronesia, the Philippines and Vanuatu. I have seen more Pacific typhoons in the last 18 months than I remember over my entire childhood.

“Welcome to climate change”, I say to visitors shocked to see sandbags lining our airport runway. Mexico knows what I am talking about. Bangladesh and the Philippines know what I’m talking about. New York and New Orleans know what I’m talking about. Climate disaster is fast becoming the new norm.

Almost every month now, my country is hit by a bad storm or swelling king tides that in 24 hours wipe out the development gains we make in 24 months. Typhoon Nangka in July left us with a $4.2 million damage bill – around 3 per cent of our country’s GDP. As welcome as they are, it does make me wonder what good the Sustainable Development Goals will bring if all we are going to do is limp from one disaster to another. As my President says, it has become like “living in a war zone”.

It is therefore appropriate that many have compared the economic and infrastructure challenges of responding to climate change to the massive post-World War Two reconstruction effort sparked by the Marshall Plan. What better person to talk about a Marshall Plan-like response to the climate crisis than the Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands??!!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Despite the challenges, I am pleased to say that the last two years have seen the most remarkable political and diplomatic transformation that I have ever seen.

Just five years ago in Copenhagen, we were all bickering about which subset of countries was responsible for the problem, and which countries had the responsibility to act. Fast forward to today, and we have “all hands on deck”.

We have worked hard with our allies to build momentum that has not only brought every major emitter to the table, but many companies, cities and communities as well. We may not quite be ready to declare victory, but our army is well poised to continue the fight for a safe climate future. For my country, for my three daughters, for my nine grandchildren and for my four great grandchildren, victory must be ours come December 11. If we manage to save my country, we’ll manage to save the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Just five weeks out from Paris, it feels like the elements of a deal are coming together, even though the draft text is much more complicated than I would like. As I am sure Laurence would agree, there is no place for complacency. As we found in Bonn last week, there is still a hell of a lot of work to do.

On the positive side of the ledger, we now have 150 countries with INDCs, or proposed emission targets, on the table, covering more than 90 per cent of global emissions. If properly implemented, these INDCs will produce climate action capable of bringing the previously estimated 3.5 or 4 degrees of warming back to 2.5 or 3 degrees.

This is not something that anyone could have predicted, and it is a clear and welcome sign of progress.

What is of deep concern is that taken together, the targets do not signal the deep and urgent decarbonisation required to get us back on a trajectory to limit warming to our agreed below two degree limit, or the below 1.5 degree goal that the most vulnerable countries, like mine, rightly argue for. Put simply, the INDCs are still not enough to say with any confidence that my country will survive. On the contrary, if we were to lock in the proposed level of ambition all the way out to 2030, the Marshall Islands would be no more.

Nobody – and I mean nobody – should expect us to sign on the dotted line in Paris if this is the case. Other than deepening targets right now, the only way to do what is responsible and necessary is to make sure that the Paris Agreement is “designed for ambition”. Let’s build an agreement that sets the long-term vision, and lays out the regular political moments we need to get us there.

First and foremost, we need our north star. The Paris Agreement must explain to the world what a below 1.5 or 2 degree economic transformation looks like in practical terms. In our view, the Agreement should say that we’re aiming to fully decarbonise or achieve net zero emissions by mid-century.

Everyone must come away from Paris with a clear sense of a launching point to a new, post-carbon global economy. We need the entire world to understand the scope of the challenge that lies ahead, especially the financiers and private sector players with the capital to reorient global investments towards clean, green energy.

Second, we will only keep our north star in sight if we come back to the table together on a regular basis to tighten our targets and bend our emissions curves downwards. What I am talking about is a five-year ambition mechanism for countries to update their targets in 2020, 2025 and so on. This will allow us to assess recent progress, and see what more is necessary in light of the new science, and perhaps most importantly, to set new targets on the basis of new, more efficient low-carbon technology that will inevitably be at our disposal.

What is critical here is that we go through these processes all together, all at the same time. As this year shows, peer group pressure is a powerful thing. How many countries would still be sitting on their INDCs, or not even have one, in the absence of a defined political moment in Paris and a process to prepare for it? We need the same thing to happen every five years.

These two design features must be at the heart of our Paris Agreement. A recent study I saw concluded that the political signal provided by a Paris Agreement long-term decarbonisation goal and a mechanism to regularly update ambition could lead to a further 5 gigatonne reduction of annual emissions by 2030, or about 10% of global emissions. This is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.

Third, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the clear message we got from the talks last week in Bonn. There will be no deal in Paris without a proper recognition and commitment to strong, sustainable climate finance over the coming decade and beyond.

For developing countries, many of which are coming forward with their first-ever climate action plans, reassurances and confidence that they will see finance and capacity-building at scale to support their efforts is a necessary pre-condition to coming on board in Paris. The Copenhagen promise of $100 billion per year by 2020 must be the starting point, with at least half of that in public finance aimed at adaptation and resilience that private money simply won’t address.

And fourth, we need a permanent treatment of the risks, threats and loss & damage that adaptation and resilience-building simply can’t prevent. Coming from one of the world’s most vulnerable countries, these issues are as real, perhaps more real, than the INDCs and adaptation plans we will bring to Paris. Over coming years, how will we deal with the regular natural devastation, the coral breaching from ocean acidification and the loss of territory that threatens to break our country apart.

Despite what some in the policy community and the US Congress might think, this is not about countries like mine sticking out tin cans for developed world spare change – absolutely not. We have had enough experience with nuclear-testing-related compensation schemes to know that they won’t address the issues that are most important. What is important is that we get the capacity-building, know-how and risk-pooling mechanisms that will help us to cope, and to maintain some level of normalcy in our climate-vulnerable world. Call it what you will, this question is at the heart of international climate cooperation. It is a question of human solidarity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are now in the home straight. Bonn last week showed us that negotiators are nearing the outer limits of their mandates, and it’s time for Ministers to roll up their sleeves. Looking back on the year, I am particularly grateful that Minister Fabius took the initiative to involve Ministers so early in the process. This means that when we all gather for the pre-COP ministerial meeting in Paris week after next, we will do so with a strong understanding of the issues and the challenges that must be overcome.

Some of these problems are intensely political. For example, how do we secure the strongest possible textual reassurance that countries will do at home what they have committed to internationally, even through changes of government, while at the same time leaving enough legal space for all leaders, President Obama included, to bring their countries on board?

And how many years into the future will donor countries be willing to commit their treasuries to come up with the money to replenish the Green Climate Fund, and will it be long enough to give developing countries the longer-term confidence that they will have the support they need? There are no easy answers here.

Laurence, as we enter the final political phase en route to COP21, starting with next week’s pre-COP, the most important thing will be for Ministers to become familiar with the outstanding issues in our draft text, to build rapport, and then to listen to one another. Not just repeat national positions, but come prepared to listen, and to compromise.

As Mexico’s expert deal-broker and then-climate ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba said at a particularly tense moment at COP-16 in Cancun in 2010, “whether we agree or not, every concern is legitimate.”

Unlike some others, I feel strongly that what I am fighting for in Paris is personal, not political. It is not an elaborate round of “game-theory diplomacy” designed to extract the best political compromise for my country’s economy in the short-term, nor an opportunity for me to beat my chest on the international stage.

I find it constantly baffling and disappointing that some countries will happily step over the interests of others, in effect playing Russian Roulette with my country’s future in a way that they would not tolerate others doing to theirs. For example, one Minister asked insensitively during a recent informal meeting in Paris, “so what if all the targets don’t add up to 2 degrees”. That, of course, was not the right question.

The right question is “so what are we going to do about it?”

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Diplomacy for us is not an art; it is a necessary tool of survival. This is ultimately about whether my children, and their children, and their children will continue to have a home like their “Papa” has, or whether we will become the first generation that leaves the world in a worse place than when we inherited it.

In just five weeks’ time, we will all be in Paris on the verge of signing what ought to be the most important international agreement of our generation. The stakes could not be higher.

None of us should go to Paris with the attitude that close enough is good enough. None of us should accept an agreement that closes the door to a safe climate future. I won’t. I won’t give up until I know I can return from Paris and look my grandchildren in the eye and say “Papa is home, and everything is going to be okay”.

Kommol tata and thank you very much.

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