Tom Ballard/Salisbury Post/AP

Flood-battered islands push climate treaty negotiators to speed efforts

Marshall Islands president tells negotiators from 30 countries that his people 'stand to lose everything'

A tiny Pacific Island nation – still recovering from massive floods that destroyed homes and displaced residents – played host this week to an international climate conference where delegates vowed to push ambitious global targets.

A new sense of urgency permeated the meeting due to the recent release of a startling new report by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicting severe consequences if emissions continue unabated. But Marshall Islands President Christopher J. Loeak said the effects the study warned about have already arrived at his doorstep.

“I have already built a seawall around my home, but the waves rise higher every month,” Loeak told delegates from more than two dozen countries at the meeting hosted by his country. “This is what we can see now, but what does our future hold? What will king tides, droughts, and storms be like in 10, 20, or 30 years?”

Loeak said he fears that the Martial Islands will soon resemble a “war zone,” and that his people “stand to lose everything.”

Representatives from 30 counties were gathering in the islands for the Cartagena Dialogue for Progressive Action, an informal meeting for negotiators ahead of a major United Nations summit in 2015 aimed at establishing an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The venue of the latest meeting vividly brings home the urgency of formulating a response to climate change.

The Marshall Islands was hit in early March by higher-than-usual “king tides” – seasonal tides that are the highest in the year – that surged through the capital. Just before those floods, the country’s northwest had suffered an extreme drought that prompted a state of emergency.

The meeting comes just after a report Monday from the IPCC, which issued a stark warning about threats the world will face if no action is taken to reduce climate change.

Partly in response to the IPCC’s grim findings, those gathered in the Marshall Islands agreed on new aims to tackle the effects of global warming.

“Shocked by the most alarming scientific report on climate change the world has ever seen, the Cartagena Dialogue alliance of progressive countries has for the first time forged a common purpose around a set of objectives for a new climate agreement, due to be signed in 2015,” Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum told Al Jazeera in an emailed statement.

“We committed to accelerate preparations now to bring forward our post-2020 emission reduction targets as early as possible next year in time to seal an ambitious new agreement in Paris, and to use the agreement to take vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning to a new level globally,” he wrote.

The Cartagena Dialogue was established in the wake of the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit to help bridge political divides and to accelerate efforts to create an international climate treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2015 at a U.N. climate conference in Paris.

It is one of the few programs within the U.N. climate negotiations to bring together negotiators from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Marshall Islands officials say their country is leading by example, by switching to green energy sources like solar and by exploring new technologies such as ocean thermal energy conversion, which uses the heat of the ocean to create energy.

The nation's negotiators are optimistic that the emission reduction targets established in the Cartagena Dialogue will be seriously considered in the upcoming U.N. Secretary-General’s Climate Summit for world leaders in September 2014.

“The secretary-general has asked our leaders to come to New York this September armed with bold pledges and new actions to reduce emissions here and now,” de Brum told Al Jazeera. “This group of countries is committed to doing just that.” 

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