From 29 low-lying coral atolls scattered across the Pacific Ocean, to the world stage: a plea for help and a call to action.

The Marshall Islands, with a population in the tens of thousands, shared the virtual stage with the world’s biggest economies late on Thursday in an attempt to pressure those who in many ways hold the Pacific nation’s future in their hands.

“We are low-lying atoll nations, barely a meter above sea level,” President David Kabua said, addressing the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate with a powerful speech.

Marshall Islands President David Kabua addresses the 2021 Leaders Summit on Climate. (2021 Leaders Summit on Climate)

“For millennia, our people have navigated between our islands to build thriving communities and cultures. 

“Today, we are navigating through the storm of climate change, determined to do our part to steer the world to safety.”

Seated at a large wooden desk, hands clasped, flag on one side and a model boat on the other, President David Kabua stared into the camera and laid out the existential threat facing his country, a series of islands already feeling the effects of rising oceans.

A 2018 US Geological Survey study predicted rising sea levels would leave some of the atolls without potable drinking water by 2035 and with annual flooding on the majority of their landmass by 2055-65.
The small size and physical isolation of the Marshall Islands pose a number of development challenges. Photo: Erin Magee, AusAID (Erin Magee, AusAID)

The islands have been tackling the threat head on, leading the “1.5 to stay alive” campaign for the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and becoming the first nation to submit new climate targets after signing.

“But all our actions will not be enough, if peak emitters fail to act,” Mr Kabua said.

“We feel the effects of climate change now.”

He called for stronger emission targets, a carbon levy to help the most vulnerable and for 50 per cent of climate financing to go towards adapting to the devastating effects of climate change.

“Too often … countries hear the excuse that steep emission cuts are too costly, but political signals, especially from the major economies, shape decisions on investment and innovation for low-carbon pathways,” he said.

“Now is the moment for the signal to be unequivocal. 

“The recovery from COVID-19 gives us a rare chance to invest in a safer and healthier world.”

Support for the world’s developing and worst-affected nations was a common theme at the virtual summit, raised repeatedly by Mr Biden and leaders from India, China, Germany, the EU and others.

Speaking later in the summit, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country was providing $1.5 billion in “practical climate finance, focusing on our blue Pacific family partners in our region.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern opened her address to the summit by saying her country’s “Pacific neighbours have identified climate change is the single biggest threat to the livelihoods, security, and well being”

“Our collective goal here at this summit and beyond has to be effective global action on climate change,” she said.

“That means our collective commitments in 2021 will need to be enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures.”

Developing countries say the United States still owes US$2 billion ($2.6 billion) in aid for transitioning away from fossil fuels that President Barack Obama promised but President Donald Trump didn’t pay.

Mr Biden delivered new pledges, saying the US would double climate funding help for less wealthy countries by 2024. 

That cost would be more than made up for when “disasters and conflicts are avoided,” he said. 

“I’ll conclude by asking my fellow leaders, how will you move from plans to implementation to align with a 1.5 degree future and help others do the same,” Mr Kabua said.

“Your answer will define the future for your children and grandchildren, and for mine.”

This content first appear on 9news

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