Pacific Islanders Urge World to Put Aside Differences in Combating Climate Change

Fiji, July 18, 2022: A view of the inland relocation of Vunidogoloa Village. Fiji, an archipelago of hundreds of islands, made history in 2014 when it was the first country in the Pacific Islands to move a town due to sea level rise.

Thailand —
Leaders of the Pacific Islands criticized wealthy nations on Monday for failing to do more to stop climate change while being largely to blame for it and for profiting from loans given to weaker countries to lessen its consequences.

At a U.N. climate change summit in Bangkok, leaders and officials from Pacific Islands countries asked that the world put more effort into putting aside differences in order to battle the environmental damage, mainly as their countries recover from the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 epidemic.

The Cook Islands Prime Minister, Mark Brown, stated that the financing strategy for addressing climate change, which involves disbursing loans to lessen the effects, is “not the way to go” for nations in his region with such small populations that produce “inconsequential amounts of carbon emissions” but suffer the most from the consequences.

He urged a switch to grants or loans with no interest to lessen the financial strain on developing nations.

The Associated Press quoted him as saying, “All we’re doing is adding debt to countries that have increased debt after COVID, and to me it is actually quite offensive that we would be required to borrow money to build resilience, and to borrow from the very countries that are causing climate change.”

According to Brown, the epidemic cost his nation an estimated 41% of its GDP, or “a loss of a decade’s worth of prosperity.”

He stated that he will convey this message to leaders when he speaks on behalf of his small, industrialized country in the South Pacific, which has a population of only 17,000, at a summit of the Group of Seven main industrialized countries later this week in Japan.

Surangel S. Whipps Jr., president of Palau, concurred that financing options are “few and difficult,” and he chastised wealthy nations for failing to fulfil their commitment to providing the financial assistance they had pledged, which he claimed represented a meager fraction of their higher priority spending, such as the military.

Palau President Surangel S. Whipps Jr. attends the 79th commission session of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific at U.N. regional office in Bangkok, May 15, 2023.

He told The Associated Press, “We didn’t cause the problem, but now they’re going to make money off of us by giving us a loan so we can pay back with interest.” “Since you must now adapt, we will offer you money and profit from your adaptation by providing you that money. That is not logical at all.

According to Whipps, tourism is a major component of Palau’s economy and is seriously endangered by the effects of climate change. The “Compacts of Free Association,” a larger deal that will regulate Palau’s ties with Washington for the next 20 years, are another important topic of discussion in the country’s discussions with the United States. These relationships provide the United States exclusive military and other security rights.

According to Whipps, the Biden administration has pledged about $900 million over the next 20 years. Whipps said he is generally happy with the conditions, which were renegotiated from what was accomplished during the administration of previous President Donald Trump, even if the sum is “definitely less” than what his country would have hoped.

Whipps said he expects Washington to uphold the deal, which he hopes can be signed by both parties in Papua New Guinea next week. There are some worries that the U.S. Congress would reduce foreign aid, which would then damage this money.

According to Brown, it costs a lot of money to combat climate change and create resistance to its effects, particularly for island nations with sparse populations. This is especially true for stronger infrastructure, increased water security, and increased food security. He stated that the area should invest $1.2 billion per year on climate adaptation and mitigation strategies as “a starter.”

“Building resilience requires money, and building resilience is still the fundamental solution to helping countries that are dealing with the effects of climate change,” he added.

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