Marshall Islands President Pleads in The New York Times: Don’t Let Us Drown

All nations, big or small, need to step up efforts against climate change, says the leader of the Pacific nation.

An aerial view of part of a low-lying atoll in the Marshall Islands.
National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
Sept. 26, 2013, 8:53 a.m.

The latest pres­id­ent to pen an op-ed in a ma­jor Amer­ic­an news­pa­per is not call­ing for dip­lomacy in hand­ling mil­it­ary or nuc­le­ar threats, as Pres­id­ents Vladi­mir Putin of Rus­sia and Has­san Rouh­ani of Ir­an have done in the last month. This pres­id­ent is ask­ing the world to work to­geth­er to keep his coun­try from drown­ing.

The threat of cli­mate change is very real in the Mar­shall Is­lands, wrote pres­id­ent Chris­toph­er Loe­ak in The New York Times on Wed­nes­day. The re­pub­lic is a string of more than 1,000 small is­lands south­w­est of Hawaii, with a pop­u­la­tion of 52,555. Some land is what’s known as atolls — nar­row, ring-shaped strips of low-ly­ing land that en­circle la­goons. The en­tire na­tion sits about sev­en feet above sea level.

“We are in­creas­ingly pan­icked by re­cent sci­entif­ic re­ports sug­gest­ing that the world is cur­rently head­ing for a three- to six-foot rise in sea levels by the end of the cen­tury,” Loe­ak said. ‘“If such pre­dic­tions are ac­cur­ate, my coun­try will be lost forever.”

Earli­er this month, the Mar­shall Is­lands, along with 15 oth­er states party to the Pa­cific Is­lands For­um, signed a de­clar­a­tion to com­bat the ef­fects of emis­sions on plan­et­ary warm­ing. For­um mem­bers range from small states like Fiji and Tu­valu to large na­tions like Aus­tralia and New Zea­l­and. The Mar­shall Is­lands aims to cut its green­house-gas emis­sions in half be­fore 2030 and be­come car­bon neut­ral be­fore 2050. “The mes­sage to the big­ger coun­tries is this: If we can do it, so can you,” the pres­id­ent said.

Loe­ak said he re­ceived sup­port from U.S. of­fi­cials on the de­clar­a­tion, but stressed that more needs to be done. “For too long, oth­ers have used Amer­ic­an in­ac­tion as an ex­cuse not to act them­selves. The world needs Amer­ic­an lead­er­ship on cli­mate change. United States sup­port for the Majuro De­clar­a­tion could not be more wel­come, and it is likely to spur ac­tion from oth­ers.”

The pres­id­ent de­clared a “state of dis­aster” for the coun­try’s north­ern atolls after a severe drought left thou­sands without fresh wa­ter. Six weeks later, a rare high tide struck the cap­it­al city of Majuro, flood­ing the air­port, neigh­bor­hoods and “even my own back­yard,” Loe­ak said.

Some have sug­ges­ted the Mar­shallese seek high­er ground, but for them, there’s no such thing. The is­land na­tion’s res­id­ents won’t choose to leave either, said Loe­ak, who is sched­uled to ad­dress the United Na­tions Gen­er­al As­sembly on Thursday af­ter­noon. “If the wa­ter comes, it comes.”

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