Fiji Prime Minister speaks during COP26

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama attends a meeting at COP26 on November 2, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo: Phil Noble--Pool/Getty Images)

Fiji PM Slams Rich Nations for Telling Poor to 'Suck It Up and Wait' for Climate Funding

"We are fighting for that which is most sacred: our survival. And any nation that is here fighting for coal or other fossil fuels should be condemned for it."

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama castigated rich nations on Monday for reneging on their vow to provide developing countries with $100 billion in annual climate funding by 2020, a failure that's been in the spotlight throughout the ongoing COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

"No nation can claim inaction out of ignorance. We have known about this threat for decades."

"Among others, the USA is woefully short of paying its fair share of climate finance," Bainimarama told former U.S. President Barack Obama during a panel discussion featuring the leaders of island nations at risk from sea-level rise driven by the global climate crisis.

"Now we, the most vulnerable, are told to suck it up and wait until 2023," Bainimarama added.

In 2009, rich nations--which are most responsible for planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions--pledged to jointly mobilize "USD 100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries."

But a report released late last month by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that wealthy countries were roughly $20 billion short of their promise in 2020 and aren't expected to reach the pledged $100 billion level until 2023.

The humanitarian group Oxfam International warned that the OECD's analysis is likely far too optimistic, given that it relies on self-reported--and thus potentially inflated--figures from donor countries such as the U.S., which was reportedly a major obstacle in climate finance talks leading up to the COP26 conference.

"This plan claims that rich nations will meet their target three years late, but conveniently fails to mention the money that poorer countries are owed for every year they fell short," Jan Kowalzig, Oxfam's senior climate policy adviser, said last month. "This shortfall, which started to accumulate in 2020, will likely amount to several tens of billions of dollars."

"These are achievable amounts of money--governments have spent trillions on Covid-19 fiscal recovery packages, which show their ability to act in an emergency," Kowalzig noted. "This is an emergency."

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Bainimarama stressed Monday that the stakes of COP26 are life-and-death for Fiji and other low-lying island nations, which are already experiencing the consequences of global heating despite being responsible for less than 1% of the world's carbon emissions. Since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016, Bainimarama noted, 13 cyclones have slammed Fiji.

"Our islands are slowly being eaten by the sea, one by one."

"The Pacific's intentions are pure here in Glasgow," Bainimarama said. "We are fighting for that which is most sacred: our survival. And any nation that is here fighting for coal or other fossil fuels should be condemned for it because past 1.5 or 2 degrees [Celsius] of warming, even Fiji's world-leading actions will not be enough to spare us untold suffering."

"Today," he continued, "no nation can claim inaction out of ignorance. We have known about this threat for decades, and the most recent [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report has put a mountain of evidence behind the experiences my people have lived and confirmed our worst fears."

The leaders of other Pacific Island nations have echoed that message during the pivotal COP26 talks, which come to a close on Friday.

"Our islands are slowly being eaten by the sea, one by one," Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the president of the Maldives, said last week. "If we do not reverse this trend, the Maldives will cease to exist by the end of the century."

Last week, Tuvalu Foreign Minister Simon Kofe recorded his video address to the COP26 summit while standing knee-deep in the ocean, an effort to highlight the threat posed by rising sea levels. The address is scheduled to be displayed in Glasgow on Tuesday.

"The statement juxtaposes the COP26 setting with the real-life situations faced in Tuvalu due to the impacts of climate change and sea-level rise and highlights the bold action Tuvalu is taking to address the very pressing issues of human mobility under climate change," Kofe says in the speech.

Mia Mottley, prime minister of Barbados, warned last Monday that failure to limit warming to 1.5degC by the end of the century could be a "death sentence" for millions of people in vulnerable countries across the globe.

"Our people are watching, and our people are taking note," she said. "Are we really going to leave Scotland without the resolve and the ambition that is sorely needed to save lives and to save our planet? How many more voices and how many more pictures of people must we see on these screens without being able to move, or are we so blinded and hardened that we can no longer appreciate the cries of humanity?"

Watch Mottley's speech in full:

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