At the 2017 ST Lee Lecture, H.E President Hilda C. Heine of the Marshall Islands spoke of her country’s determination to tackle the effects of climate change. In her address, President Heine also challenged Australia’s inaction on this important issue.
The legacy of the Marshall Islands is one of resiliance before and after its independence in 1986. As a country that became a nuclear testing ground for the US during the Cold War, birth defects and cancers in second and third generation Marshallese continue to scar the nation.
The President recognised a parallel in the inaction of world leaders to prevent the devastations of nuclear radiation on Marshallese with the inaction of world leaders to prevent unsustainable emission of greenhouse gasses.
“Paris is the last chance for the world,” said President Heine, who did not shy away from calling out climate deniers, including the Trump administration's recent campaign to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.
President Heine championed the leading role the Marshall Islands play in minimising climate change.
In 2016, along with 46 other climate-change affected countries, it pledged to use 100% renewable energy by 2030 at the Climate Vulnerable Forum. The Forum will be chaired by the Marshall Islands for the next two years.
The plight of the Marshellese people was made clear.
“The Marshall Islands is literally on the frontline of this battle.” With sea levels rising, it currently faces the possibility that its people will soon become climate refugees, fleeing from a submerged island.
“We have no higher ground to go to.”
The Marshall Islands is well-known for directly challenging bigger powers on their failures to commit to global efforts on climate change. Australia is no exception.
"Imagine how you’d feel if your big brother or big sister was not only openly mocking the science but even occasionally mocking your very own plight.”
In this comment, the President was referencing Australian politician's recent attempts to replace solar power initiatives with more coal mines, and ongoing scepticism around climate science in public debates.
“This not only does your country a disservice; it openly weakens your ability to be a force for good on the world stage.”
A fair warning to Australia to save our Pacific sisters and brothers before it is too late.
Words by Reza Mazumder from The Monsoon Project.