The Marshall Islands, one of the nations most threatened by rising sea levels, became the first developing country to pledge absolute cuts in carbon emissions as part of a global fight against climate change.
The Pacific atolls, mostly just 2 meters (6 feet) above sea level, aim to reduce emissions by almost a third from 2010 through 2025 and by 45 percent by 2030, according to a statement from President Christopher Loeak’s office.
The cut in greenhouse gases is a minuscule proportion of the world’s emissions and will have little impact reining in global warming. At the same time, the action by a nation whose very survival is endangered by warming temperatures that spark rising waters is designed to spur bigger emitters into making significant cuts when envoys gather in Paris in December in a bid to forge a new global climate agreement.
“We’re sending several messages and one is that if we can do it, so can they,” Foreign Minister Tony de Brum said Monday in a phone interview from Paris, where he’s attending informal climate talks with other ministers. “Also, locking in emissions pledges for countries for 15 years is a dangerous way to go because technology and innovation can in fact make a lot of improvements before that time.”
The pledge from the Marshall Islands, which de Brum said would be formalized in the United Nations process in the next day, adds to a promise by the European Union to shrink emissions by 40 percent through 2030.
China, the biggest emitter, has promised its greenhouse gases will reach a peak in about 15 years while the U.S., the next largest, says it will reduce the gases by at least 26 percent in the 20 years through 2025.
Other developing nations to make related promises include Ethiopia, Morocco and Gabon.
De Brum said his country will achieve its target by adding more solar power to the grid in the island of Ebeye and capital Majuro after “solarizing” 22 outer atolls. Authorities will also look at how to cut methane emissions from waste and incorporate more coconut oil into diesel for domestic shipping.
Diplomats including Christiana Figueres, who stewards the UN dialogue as the top UN climate official, say any Paris deal won’t yet put the planet on track to contain warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, the globally-agreed target. De Brum, among envoys from island nations pushing for a 1.5-degree cap, said that even so, the deal must include a mechanism to ratchet up the ambition of cuts over time.
“We cannot go to Paris and sign a deal that says ‘your island is going to be covered in water in 20 years,’” said the minister, who returned home from a UN meeting this month to find a fishing boat forced ashore by a storm outside his living room window. “That’s why we need to reach an agreement that ensures everyone will ratchet up.”