The president of Palau has issued a heartfelt plea to the world not to consign his people to the history books, as rising sea levels driven by climate change threaten to sink his country.
“We should not ever live in a world where we would have to go to textbooks or history books to learn about these islands and those cultures and those people because they vanish because of climate change,” President Surangel Whipps Jr told Sky News.
The Pacific Ocean archipelago of some 340 islands, home to 18,000 people, vast barrier reef and abundant marine life, is being battered by climate change.
The president painted a stark picture of how the weather had changed. “We’ve had typhoons, monsoons taking out roads, destroyed homes,” he said.
Previously Palau was not in what is known as the “Typhoon Belt”. “That’s a direct result of the change in climate,” he said.
Homes are flooded just from high tide and warmer seas are bleaching the coral.
‘Ray of hope’
The president caused a stir at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow in November when he told leaders: “You might as well bomb our islands instead of making us suffer, only to witness our slow and fateful demise.”
He told Sky News that the climate summit had offered a “ray of hope that we’re going in the right direction” but called out big polluting countries for being “behind” in their response.
“It’s not happening fast enough,” he said, adding that a lot of offers to help fund vulnerable nations’ efforts to cope with climate change “has been talk” rather than hard cash.
That’s why Palau has joined the Commission of Small Island States (COSIS) in bringing legal action to enforce the principle that “the polluter should pay” for climate impacts.
COSIS hopes this case would the first of its kind under the UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
“We are the least contributors, but see the biggest impact of climate change and our voices need to be heard,” he said.
“This is one way to let the world know the challenges that we face.”
“The intent is… to make people understand that the choices that you make every day impact the lives of people around the world, and especially small island states.
“So make the right choices.”
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