Typically, much of the climate change discussion refers to it as a “threat.” But the reality is, for many on earth, the crisis is already here. Many developing small islands have experienced climate-related declines in their security, livelihoods and welfare. Palau was hit hard by climate change, with two devastating typhoons causing more than 50% of its national GDP to be lost.
Since two decades, our lives have been affected by the sea-level rising. King tides regularly flow into homes. In the midst of increasingly intense storms, it is common for mudslides to occur along the main road leading to our hospital. We are only waiting for a Typhoon to flood our only hospital and cause havoc on the already stressed public-health system. These once seasonal occurrences now exacerbate our existing health, environment and economic crises.
On the world’s stage, we and those suffering similar realities have demanded bold action and robust delivery of community-centric adaptation and mitigation. These voices are lost in the rains and winds that batter their land, but they continue to be heard. That’s despite the fact that Pacific small-island nation-states combined are responsible for a mere 0.03% of global emissions.
Outspoken economies continue to release toxic emissions and make unfulfilled commitments to pay for losses and damage. Unfortunately, international forums like COP26 are a weak sounding board that leads to false promises and solutions that only exacerbate the problem. It is unfair that we aren’t held responsible for the plight of our largest emitters.
In light of this situation, Palau joined the Commission of Small Island States for Climate Change and International Law in an effort to get justice. COSIS is determined to become the U.N. International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea’s first case of its kind. Our case may help to determine the international obligations of nations and hold polluters responsible.
Palau was first to join COSIS as a member of the Alliance of Small Island States. We hope that all small-island nations will be able to participate in international courts and legal action in 2022, following our activities at the U.N. General Assembly. It will be an important priority for the Our Ocean Conference that Palau will host in April.
The global community needs to unite like schools of surgeonfish when confronted with a dire threat. Allies need to accelerate their progress toward a convincing march towards real progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and rapid delivery of climate finance.
Palau’s people are resilient. We will keep adapting until the world’s course changes. Our limited resources will be mobilized to relocate our hospital to higher ground, clear debris from our homes and business after every storm and to continue working with allies and partners to address any future challenges.
For wisdom in these uncertain times, I look to the culture and environment of my fellow Pacific leaders. We know that wisdom is not enough to save us. Palau, along with other small-island countries and Indigenous peoples around the world, calls on the international community for 2022 to be a year full of accountability, mutuality, and substantial investments in safeguards to ensure that basic human rights are protected. This will allow us to fulfil our duty as the custodians and stewards of the earth and transfer our lands and oceans to the next generation.
This essay forms part of a series about concrete goals the entire world should strive for by 2022, in order to avoid climate-related disaster. The rest of the article is available here.