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Regional News

Marshalls president calls for unity on Paris climate agreement

CANBERRA (Canberra Times/Pacnews) — President of the Marshall Islands Hilda Heine dismissed the possibility her nation may soon be one of climate change refugees, saying her people were not considering a timeframe to leave.

Dr. Heine, the first female leader of any independent Pacific nation, was in Canberra on Tuesday delivering the ST Lee Lecture at ANU and detailing the perils her country faces due to climate change.

Sea levels, predicted rise between 30 to 120 cm by the end of the century, pose a huge threat to the nation comprised of 1,156 islands and low-lying coral atolls, most of which stand less than 180cm above sea level.

Hilda HeineHilda Heine

President Heine said with the help of The World Bank, work was under way to safeguard access to drinking water, protect shoreline homes and infrastructure, and develop crops to withstand increasing salinity.

“We are trying to look at all opportunities and technologies to make sure our country can remain viable for our people to continue to live there,” she said. “Our country’s survival is based on people living in the Marshall Islands, not elsewhere.”

But the pressure is on internationally to ensure the Paris Agreement is not fractured by threats by U.S. President Donald Trump to defect.

Dr. Heine wrote to President Trump pleading for him to remain and not to scrap $2 billion in U.S. funding still yet to be transferred the U.N. Green Climate Fund — a $10 billion fund vulnerable countries such as the Marshall Islands will benefit from.

“There are lots of countries that remain committed and so we are very heartened by the fact they want to stay and remain loyal to the Paris Agreement,” she said.

“We continue to hope the United States and other lead countries will also hear the call of all the vulnerable countries and remain.”

It takes incredible resolve to face up to this looming global threat, particularly as circumstances on the ground for the country of 53,000 people get more difficult.

Despite conjecture limiting global temperature rises to 1.5°C looks out of reach, Dr. Heine said she was reluctant to see that benchmark and the commitment to it shift.

She wouldn’t talk in detail about how severe the consequences would be if the Paris Agreement was derailed, and made clear advocating for loyalty and maintaining an optimistic stance were vital diplomatic tools.

“Hopefully things won’t be drastically diverted in different direction,” she said.

“We are concerned, but we want to remain optimistic that even with the current atmosphere we can continue to maintain that 1.5 degrees,” Heine said.