I come from an island that is ringed by a mighty coral reef and I cannot imagine what it will be like when coral is gone from tropical waters. That’s not science fiction. The IPCC says that 70–90 per cent of tropical corals will be gone when we go through 1.5°C warming, which we’re fast approaching. At 2°C, coral is virtually extinct in tropical areas. That’s a clarion call from a tropical island – I’m ringing that alarm bell as loud as I can.
We’re also very worried that with ocean warming, it’s the tropics that get hottest. And not only is there less oxygen, but species are moving away from us. That is already observable. If you take tuna for example, three of the five commercial species of tuna from the world’s greatest tuna fishery, which is in the southwest Pacific, are going to be moving away from us over the next 70 years. When you consider that countries such as Tuvalu get 90 per cent of their foreign exchange from tuna, this is very significant scientific information.
All island nations are now taking adaptation measures. In Fiji’s case, we’re relocating coastal villages that are threatened by sea inundation; and we have enhanced our early warning systems for hurricanes, which are coming at us with increasing frequency and ferocity. But if global warming is going to continue at current rates and if major emitters don’t face up to their responsibilities, then what use is all our good work on biodiversity and ocean protection? So that’s where the central responsibility lies for humanity – with the major emitters. I think that island states have a pretty good track record over the past ten years of calling out loud and clear at the international gatherings as to what is actually happening to our planet and the need to change our ways.
It’s also really important that the climate change movement understands that the ocean is a vital part of the problem, and a vital part of the solution. Glasgow COP has been described as the ‘last best chance’ we have to turn the curve on all this. There are a lot of projects going on that could change things, but really, it comes back to Glasgow and getting our anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions under control. We’ve also got to start moving climate finance in the direction of the ocean. At the moment, the ocean only gets one per cent or less of general international climate funding, and then consider that it provides more than half of the planet’s oxygen. We have to protect the ocean’s health, understand it better, and start investing in the sustainable blue economy at realistic levels.
We are conscious of our own vulnerability. And perhaps it’s this that characterises all small island states. But we are also well aware of what is happening in the world, and of the challenges that we have as one humanity living on planet Earth. My foundation is looking at promoting the oceans as the beating blue heart of our planet. I want to now ensure that the marine plans that we had for the Seychelles can be emulated within the western Indian Ocean region.
You need to have the political will to move this agenda forward. This is what we want to share with other nations across the globe – that it can be done. It is really about reaching out and building the right partnerships so that we can bring our minds together to fix some of the burning problems of our times.
Sometimes as islanders, you feel the loneliness, but you’re also part of something that is bigger than you. We want to say that we are small, but we can make a difference. And please listen to us.