Tuvalu’s prime minister, Enele Sopoaga, ordered his officials to cancel any cooperation with the United States on Friday, calling the country’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement distressing and destructive.
“I have instructed my officials not to talk any climate change issues with this country until a new policy is put in place,” said Sopoaga in an interview, hinting that the break could go even further. “I think it doesn’t make any sense to talk about any other thing if we don’t fix the problem of climate change.”
Sopoaga was one of many Pacific island leaders to react with disappointment and disbelief at President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the world’s largest economy and second-largest polluter from the agreement, embracing isolationist voices within his administration who argued that it was a threat to American sovereignty and the economy.
The Paris Agreement was signed by all but two of the world’s countries in December 2015, with each signatory agreeing to lower their greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to stave off the most drastic effects of climate change.
Negotiations for the deal received a significant push by the administration of former president Barack Obama, who at the time said the agreement sent a “powerful signal that the world is fully committed to a low-carbon future.”
A year-and-a-half later, America no longer takes that view. In announcing the withdrawal, Trump said the pact was a “draconian” deal that imposed unfair environmental standards on American businesses and workers, making good on a campaign promise to cancel an agreement he had never been fond of.
But in the Pacific, one of the regions bearing the brunt of rising sea levels and changing weather conditions, the agreement had been welcomed as a commitment by the world’s countries to try and offset emissions, and thus save their threatened islands.
One of the countries on the frontline of climate change is Tuvalu, a group of nine thin coral atolls which rise little more than two metres above sea level. Already, the ocean is marching in, with waves and king tides nibbling at the shore, roads and houses. Crops are shrivelling and water supplies are being penetrated by salt water. The country was also hard hit by Cyclone Pam in 2015, a category five storm whose intensity has been linked to changing weather patterns as a result of climate change.
“We are very, very distressed,” said Sopoaga. “I think this a very destructive, obstructive statement from a leader of perhaps the biggest polluter on earth and we are very disappointed as a small island country already suffering the effects of climate change.”
Fiji’s Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, who is chairing the next round of United Nations climate change talks in November, said the decision was deeply disappointing for people in vulnerable nations.
“I did what I could — along with many leaders around the world — to try to persuade President Trump to remain standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us as we tackled the greatest challenge our planet has ever faced,” said Bainimarama in a statement. “While the loss of America’s leadership is unfortunate, this is a struggle that is far from over.”
The president of the French Polynesian assembly, Marcel Tuihani, also expressed his dismay. “No electoral promise can prevail over the best interests of all humanity,” said Tuihani. “We regret that the president of the United States has no more consideration for the peoples of Pacific Island states, whose existence is threatened by the effects of scientifically proven climate warming.”
Another threatened country, the Marshall Islands, a state in free association with the United States which hosts a military base, also criticised the move. Its president, Hilda Heine, said the decision would have grave impacts, and was confusing for those who supported US leadership on the world stage.
While the departure of the United States by no means undoes the multilateral United Nations accord, it does shake it. Even before Trump’s decision, many countries were struggling to meet their commitments for reducing carbon emissions by 2025. Now, with the United States walking away, the rest will presumably have to pick up the slack. [/restrict]