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From Frontlines of Climate Change, an Urgent Challenge to World Leaders

Marshall Islands president's video address shames world's polluters in advance of UN Climate Summit

Deirdre Fulton

"Out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, climate change has arrived," Marshall Islands president Christopher Loeak says in a video address to be released globally on Friday, ahead of Sunday's People's Climate March and next week's UN Climate Summit.

Standing in front of the brick seawall he built to protect his home from the rising ocean, Loeak describes how his atoll nation, population 52,634, "is at the frontline in the battle against climate change."

"The beaches of Buoj where I used to fish as a boy are already under water, and the fresh water we need to grow our food gets saltier every day," he says, as waves crash in the background. "As scientists had predicted, some of our islands have already completely disappeared, gone forever under the ever-rising waves. For the Marshall Islands and our friends in the Pacific, this is already a full-blown climate emergency."

While some Pacific Island communities are considering, or have settled on, relocation in response to rising sea levels, Loeak rejects such an option.

"These islands are our home," he says. "They hold our history, our heritage and our hopes for the future. Are the world's polluters asking us to give up our language, our culture, and our national identity? We are not prepared to do that—we will stay and fight. If the water comes, it comes."

Loeak cites the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' meeting, which the Marshall Islands hosted last year, as "one of the proudest moments" of his presidency. The Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership (pdf) came out of that meeting, calling for the "urgent reduction and phase down of greenhouse gas pollution." Loeak presented the declaration to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon in 2013, and vowed at the time to bring the "spirit of Majuro" to next week's landmark Summit.

"To my fellow world leaders I say: Next week's Summit is a chance for all of us to be the leaders we were elected to be. We must send a strong and united message to the world—and to the people that we represent—that we are ready to do a deal next year. And to avoid the worst impacts of a warmer world, this new deal must capture a vision for a carbon-free world by the middle of the century. Without it, no seawall will be high enough to save my country."

Loeak's plea echoes that of Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives, who was famous for his efforts to fight the climate change that threatened his island nation.

Watch the full video below:

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