Much of the discussion about climate change is usually referred to as a “threat”. But the reality is that for many on earth, the crisis is here. Many small developing island states have already suffered climate-related loss of livelihoods, security and well-being. My country, Palau, has been devastated by the climate crisis, suffering two major typhoons that have caused the loss of more than half of our national GDP.
Our lives have been swallowed up by rising sea levels for two decades. Royal tides usually flow in our homes. Mud landslides are common on the only road to our hospital and main business center during the increasingly frequent and intense storms. It is only a matter of time before a typhoon floods the corridors of our only hospital, wreaking havoc on our already tense public health system. These pre-seasonal events aggravate our existing health, environmental and economic crises.
On the world stage, we and those who suffer from similar realities have called for bold action and sound implementation of community-centered adaptations and mitigation. However, the voices of these indigenous peoples are drowned out as the winds and rain that hit their shores. This is despite the fact that the small Pacific island nation-states together account for 0.03% of global emissions.
Meanwhile, powerful economies continue to release toxic emissions along with unfulfilled promises to finance losses and damage. Unfortunately, international platforms such as COP26 have been weak sounding boards that have resulted in promises that lead to disappointment and false solutions that dilute problems. The injustice is that the big broadcasters are not responsible for our situation.
Faced with this dilemma, Palau has joined the Commission on Small Island States (COSIS) on Climate Change and International Law to seek justice that advances the basic principle that polluters must pay. COSIS aims to be the first to bring such a case to the UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. We hope that our case will help determine the obligations of countries under international law and hold polluters accountable.
Palau was the first member of the COSIS of the Alliance of Small Island States. Following our work in the United Nations General Assembly and COP26, in 2022 we hope to incorporate all the small island countries to initiate legal action through international tribunals. This will be a priority at the Our Ocean Conference, which Palau will host in April.
As schools of surgeons come together in the face of an imminent threat, the global community must unite in vision, voice and action to combat the alarming realities of the climate crisis. Allies need to accelerate the move towards a persuasive move towards real progress in reducing emissions and delivering climate finance quickly.
The people of Palau are resilient. Until the world corrects its course, we will continue to adapt day by day. We will mobilize our scarce resources to move our hospital to a higher place; clean up the rubble and repair our homes and businesses after every storm that comes; and continue to work with partners and allies to collectively address future adversities.
I and other Pacific leaders seek wisdom in our culture and environment to resist these uncertain times. But we know that wisdom without capacity cannot save us. Palau joins other small island states and indigenous peoples around the world in calling on the international community to make 2022 a year of responsibility, reciprocity and meaningful investment in adequate safeguards to ensure basic human rights for the world. they allow us to fulfill our responsibility as guardians of the earth to transfer our lands, our ocean, and our cultures to future generations.
This essay is part of a series of specific goals that the world should aspire to in 2022 in order to put us on the path to avoiding the disaster related to climate change. Read the rest here.