The Pacific Islands are ground-zero for climate change. By 2050, many of the low-lying atolls that make up the region could be uninhabitable. Leaders of these islands, including Fiji and the Solomon Islands, recognize the dangers climate change from sea level rise to extreme weather.
That’s why they made a special “climate crisis” declaration during the Fifth Pacific Islands Development Forum Leaders’ Summit on Tuesday.
“This declaration makes clear that the current scale of the climate crisis calls for urgent action to phase out coal and other fossil fuels,” said Fenton Lutunatabua, the regional managing director of 350.org in the Pacific, in a statement. “This visionary declaration is a testament to the will of the Pacific people who have moved their politicians to show committed actions in confronting the climate crisis.”
The impacts of climate change in the region already being felt, according to a report published Wednesday by the Global Health Alliance Australia and Monash University in Australia. Sea level rise will eventually erode and swallow many low-lying islands, but the health impacts are also a huge risk for small island states. This new report shows that the risks of respiratory disease, chronic diarrhea, malnutrition, and infectious disease all grow in a warmer, more unstable climate—especially in the Pacific Islands.
Global Health Alliance Australia Executive Director Misha Coleman, who helped author the report, told the Guardian heat and poor air quality tied to climate change are already killing people in the region.
The Nadi Bay Declaration on the Climate Change Crisis in the Pacific, as the new climate crisis declaration is called, aims to avoid the worst of climate change by calling for governments to phase out of fossil fuels as well as the industry itself. The declaration recognizes “the urgent responsibility and moral obligation of fossil fuel producers to lead in putting an end to fossil fuel development and to manage the decline of existing production and the need to ensure the phase out of coal power to achieve the Paris climate goals and also recognize that these do not just have economic costs, but also are of widespread detriment to human health through acute respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.”
Similar declarations have been made around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom. Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have demanded Congress to do the same in the U.S. as well.
While these types of declarations are becoming more popular, it’s unclear what they can actually do to help us stop climate change. They don’t come with any major policy changes or promises. They definitely help raise the alarm over this global crisis, but that’s not enough—especially not for the Pacific Islands.