A South Pacific island nation threatened by sea level rise has expressed disappointment with the international climate pact, which was signed last week after it was watered down at the last minute.
Tuvalus Foreign Minister Simon Kofe said on Monday that the agreement signed at the weekend should have committed to “phasing out” instead of “phasing down” CO2 emissions. The wording of the agreement was changed shortly before the conclusion of the United Nations COP26 climate change summit following interventions by India and China, two of the world’s largest producers of greenhouse gases.
“We were disappointed with the short-term change in the language around coal from ‘Phasing Out’ to ‘Phasing Down’. I think we were pretty disappointed, as were other Pacific island states, by this last minute change, ”Kofe told Reuters on Monday after the pact sealed on Saturday.
Tuvalu, a nation of 12,000 people and nine small, low-lying islands, could soon become uninhabitable as sea levels rise 0.2 inches a year, a rate above the global average. Its highest point is 15 feet, meaning that any rise in sea level will wash away parts of the islands and render the surrounding area non-viable. Other island states in the Pacific face the same existential threat.
The outcome of the COP26 summit, at which two-week negotiations were concluded and at which almost 200 countries signed an agreement to combat climate change, was criticized by activists and politicians as insufficient to avert an impending climate-related disaster.
Summit’s UK President, Legislator Alok Sharma, has told the BBC that both India and China will need to “declare” themselves to the countries most vulnerable to the effects of rising temperatures after the last minute wording was changed.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General António Guterres praised delegates from around the world for the agreement in his closing remarks at the climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, but admitted that there was more to be done.
“Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread,” he said in a video address. “We’re still knocking on the door of the climate catastrophe.”
The deal includes several key commitments, including an agreement to reduce subsidies for coal-fired power and fossil fuels. However, critics say the pledges are not aggressive enough to avert the worst effects of climate change and that they do not offer enough support to developing countries, which are disproportionately affected by global warming.
Kofe added that stronger action against climate change is vital to the survival of Tuvalu and other small island nations. Larger countries like neighboring Australia should have committed to reducing their CO2 emissions more.
“It really depends on the countries – the big emitters – that have to respond. But we will continue to push forward, we will continue to work to reduce emissions in the future, ”continued the minister.
“What is important now is the implementation plan and how to proceed. Making commitments is one thing, but seeing how countries implement them is another, ”said Kofe.
During a speech before the UN summit on November 9, Kofe urged world leaders to take action against climate change. He held his roll call underwater up to his knees in an area in Tuvalu where there was once dry land.
“We cannot wait for speeches when the sea is rising all the time … we must take bold alternative measures today to secure tomorrow,” he said in his address.
The footage of his speech went viral on social media and drew international attention to the plight of the island nation.
Studies show that global CO2 emissions must be reduced by 45 percent by 2030 in order to avoid a temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius.