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OPINION: The world loses its greatest climate warrior

As tributes continue to pour in from around the world in appreciation of the work of Ambassador Tony de Brum, the Marshallese statesman, Sam Bickersteth and Kiran Sura reflect on the life of CDKN’s deeply valued partner.

With the passing of Ambassador Tony de Brum, we have lost the leading light for small island states and his home country, the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Whether it was fighting to secure justice for the Marshallese people for the nuclear tests carried out in the Pacific by the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, or working to secure a global climate agreement to save the existence of his islands, his charm, passion and commitment to the cause were boundless.

It was back in 2012 that CDKN first started supporting Ambassador de Brum and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) in international climate negotiations. Few could have expected then that the RMI – an island nation of 53,000 people, lying on average 2-3 metres above sea level and spread across 750,000 square miles (1.9m square kilometres) of ocean – would have played such an instrumental role in securing the Paris Agreement. Fast forward three years and, as Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Climate Change Ambassador for the RMI, it was Ambassador de Brum who ensured the voice of the voiceless, poor and vulnerable countries was heard. He was the one who brought developing and developed countries to the table and broke the longstanding deadlock between the two groups. He was the one who led by example to secure an ambitious climate deal.

Tony de Brum and High Ambition Coalition at the Paris Summit 2015

If you have been fortunate to hear Ambassador de Brum speak you will know that his words always leave you feeling a profound sense of responsibility to present and future generations to do whatever it takes to get the job done. In no instance was this more true than in a speech he gave in London in October 2015, ahead of the critical climate negotiations in Paris in December of that year. Ambassador de Brum called on leaders, businesses, non-governmental organisations and civil society to avoid becoming “the first generation that leaves the world in a worse place than when we inherited it”.  He went on to say:

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.

For Ambassador de Brum, diplomacy was not an art, but a necessary tool for survival, and he mastered the use of this tool. He was the first island state national to represent the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable in key forums such as the Major Economies Forum, Petersberg Climate Dialogue – high profile diplomatic forums that have been critical in securing political support for the Paris Agreement. He was hailed as the mastermind behind the High Ambition Coalition of developing and developed countries. He was instrumental in the RMI’s becoming one of the first countries to ratify the Paris Agreement, just second after France, the holders of the COP Presidency.

As leaders filed into the halls of the climate talks in Paris December 2015, Ambassador de Brum was preceded by Todd Stern, the United States’ lead negotiator. Visually, this represented how the RMI came to be a giant among nations.

We feel privileged and fortunate to have been able to work with Ambassador de Brum in his fight against climate change and in his fight to save his islands. He was a true climate warrior and we will continue to fight for what he fought for. May he rest in peace and continue to be an inspiration to us all. Kommol tata Tony.




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