Page 27 - Respond 2018 Magazine
P. 27


          Tony de Brum invited 18-year-old Selina Leem to give the Marshall Islands closing statement at the critical Paris climate summit. Negotiators
          including the US’ Todd Stern wore coconut leaves in solidarity with island states (Photo: IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth)
          parliament in a cutthroat federal election. It was in this role   In reality, the business of registering ships operated out of
          that he became a prominent voice in the global response to   Virginia, US, with little benefit to islanders. But it relied on
          climate change.                                      the Marshallese government for legitimacy and de Brum
                                                               knew leverage when he saw it. He shocked the registry’s
          Mirroring his nuclear diplomacy, de Brum relentlessly   representatives to the International Maritime Organization
          pursued justice in the climate arena. The Marshall Islands   in 2015 by claiming the country’s seat to make an
          are low-lying atolls, especially vulnerable to climate change.   impassioned plea for emissions reductions at sea.
          It is thought that an increase of 2C, for years the widely
          accepted upper limit of “safe” warming, would cause enough   His intervention shook up the industry-dominated forum,
          sea level rise to make the Marshall Islands uninhabitable.   launching a – still slow – process of setting climate goals that
          King tides already cause mayhem as they sweep through   has been taken up by other island leaders.
          villages and crops.
                                                               De Brum’s canny political mind – forged amid the ruthless
          Outgunned by vast economic and political forces, again   island politics of his home country – was central to the
          and again de Brum returned to the key moral argument of   establishment of the “high ambition coalition”. This group
          climate change: how can the countries that have created the   of likeminded nations met in secret on the side of climate
          problem allow his country to suffer? In this refrain, he was   negotiations throughout 2015 before breaking cover at a
          able to draw from the nuclear politics that forged his youth   critical moment during the Paris climate talks at the end of
          and world view.                                      that year.

          The appeal to justice afforded de Brum, and representatives   “1.5 to stay alive” was de Brum’s catchphrase at the Paris
          of other small, vulnerable countries, a status       conference. He assured the world that the Marshall Islands
          disproportionate to their tiny populations and GDP.  would no longer exist if the agreement only limited the
                                                               world to 2C of warming. Yet many scientists believe the goal
          Other atoll nations have begun to make heavy-hearted   to be quixotic. With global temperatures already 1C above
          evacuation plans. But de Brum, remembering the effects of   average and climbing rapidly, the window is closing for the
          nuclear dislocation, would never countenance this thought.  Marshall Islands.

          “Displacement is not an option we relish or cherish and we   The intervention of the coalition contributed to a last minute
          will not operate on that basis. We will operate on the basis   push for a stronger deal, which succeeded in scripting a
          that we can in fact help to prevent this from happening,”   lower temperature limit of 1.5C into the final agreement
          he told the Guardian in 2015. Ever the operator, he also   in December 2015. The inclusion was an unexpected
          regarded this as a fine way to give away your bargaining   diplomatic victory and in it de Brum can be credited with
          position at climate negotiations.                    chipping out a fingernail hold for his country’s future.

          While speaking truth to power, de Brum did not neglect his   For the Marshall Islands’ closing statement in Paris, he ceded
          country’s own rogue industry: shipping. During his lifetime,   the floor to 18-year-old Selina Leem. “This Agreement should
          the island became the second largest flag registry in the   be the turning point in our story; a turning point for all of
          world, enabling a lightly regulated sector with a growing   us,” she told an emotional room.
          carbon footprint.
                                                               On his islands, de Brum leaves behind a wife, three children,
                                                               ten grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

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