Event - COP21: The View from Small Island States


On the 14th of July I hosted an event with the Ambassador of the Maldives, H.E Ahmed Shiaan and the Ambassador of Vanuatu, H.E Roy Mickey Joy to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change on small island States and to explore what steps the world needs to take to address them. As the only UK MEP on the parliamentary delegation to the UNFCCC Paris COP 21 meeting in December 2015 where the world is scheduled to agree a global climate deal to limit the earth's temperature rise to two degrees, I hosted the event to highlight what a global deal should look like for those people who face the worst consequences of climate change. Below you can find my speech:

Ladies and Gentleman welcome to the European Parliament and thank you for joining us at this event: Paris COP21: The View from Small Island States. On this day in five months’ time the nations of the world will have concluded their negotiations in Paris. The aim is clear – achieve a legally binding emissions reduction accord that will limit the world’s temperature increase below 2 degrees.

However clear the aim may be, we face significant barriers to achieving it. We still don’t know what form the deal will take; will it be legally binding and verifiable or will it simply be down to each nation to honour their commitment. And on these commitments, we are as yet unaware by how much most of the world will commit to reducing their emissions.

This is a crucial time in the debate and nowhere is this sense of urgency felt more than in the countries at the sharp end of climate change. In that light, I am delighted to have with us today two very distinguished guests: His Excellency Ahmed Shiaan, Ambassador from the Maldives to the EU, and His Excellency Roy Mickey Joy, Ambassador from Vanuatu to the EU.

Neither Ambassador need convincing that climate change is one of the world’s most pressing issues. In 1987 the Maldives became the first country ever to raise climate change at a meeting of global leaders. Just months before the Commonwealth Heads of State gathered that year in Vancouver, the Maldives was hit by a freak storm, displacing thousands from their homes and doing millions of pounds worth of damage to infrastructure. In his speech ‘The Death of a Nation’, the then President of the Maldives pleaded with world leaders to recognise the risk that climate change posed to his people:

“As for my own country, the Maldives, a mean sea level rise of 2 metres would suffice to virtually submerge the entire country of 1,190 small islands, most of which barely rise over 2 metres above mean sea level. That would be the death of a nation. With a mere I metre rise also, a storm surge would be catastrophic, and possibly fatal to the nation.”

Those words are as applicable today as they were in 1987. The latest science available shows sea levels have risen more this year than they ever have before. Indeed, the UN estimates that unless we act now, by 2100 80% of the Maldives will be underwater. For the Maldives there is no alternative. Either Paris brings about meaningful change, or the threat of the death of a nation that has hung above it for 30 years becomes a reality. For the first time in history we will be dealing with climate refugees – men, women, children displaced from their homes by a phenomenon we have the power to help prevent.

And what of Vanuatu? In March this year, tropical cyclone PAM blew through Vanuatu at 160 miles per hour killing 16 and displacing three and a half thousand people. The most severe tropical storm to hit the Southern Hemisphere in over a decade, and the third most severe of all time, Pam has badly damaged 90% of housing in Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila. As work begins to rebuild the damage and destruction caused by Pam, we gather here today in full cognisance that it is the world’s poorest, those who have contributed the least to climate change over the years, who often suffer its worst affects.

The EU has an important role to play in Paris this December, not just in terms of reducing our emissions at home – indeed we have the world’s most ambitious emissions reduction package, but perhaps more important still, we have the duty to lend a voice to states like Vanuatu and the Maldives in the crowded negotiation rooms where small voices are so often not heard.

As is so often the case in global negotiations politics can stand in the way of progress and justice. China’s emissions reduction package is weak because they don’t trust the international political system; America’s could be stronger but Obama cannot trust other US politicians to vote ambitious measures through Congress. All the while, small island states suffer as the big beasts battle it out.

However, if we are to make any serious progress it must be tested against States like Vanuatu and the Maldives. If we are to see any change it must be for the thousands who are already displaced and who face the prospect of becoming climate refugees. So I hope today we can begin to build a picture of what a successful deal in Paris should look like from the perspective of those who need it most but lack the resources to make it happen.

I would now like to hand the floor to Ambassador Shiaan of the Maldives.