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Island nation at risk of extinction from rising seas laments watered-down climate pact

“It really comes down to countries — the big emitters — that need to act on this,” Tuvalu Foreign Minister Simon Kofe said.

A South Pacific island nation at risk from rising sea levels has expressed disappointment with the international climate pact struck last week after it was watered down at the last minute.

Tuvalu Foreign Minister Simon Kofe on Monday said the deal signed over the weekend should have pledged to the “phasing out” instead of the “phasing down” of carbon emissions. The agreement’s wording was changed just before the conclusion of the United Nations’ COP26 climate summit after interventions by India and China, two of the world’s largest producers of greenhouse gases.

“We were disappointed with the last minute change to the language around coal from ‘phasing out’ to ‘phasing down.’ I think we were quite disappointed, as well as other Pacific island countries, with that last minute change,” he told Reuters following the pact that was sealed Saturday. 

Tuvalu, a nation of 12,000 people and nine small low-lying islands, may soon become uninhabitable as sea levels rise 0.2 inches a year, a rate higher than the global average. Its highest point stands at 15 feet, meaning any rise in sea levels will wash away parts of the islands and make surrounding areas unfit for living. Other island nations in the Pacific Ocean face the same existential threat. 

The outcome of the summit, which concluded two weeks of negotiations and saw almost 200 countries sign an agreement on how to battle climate change, has been criticized by activists and politicians as being insufficient to avert an impending climate-led catastrophe. 

The summit’s president, United Kingdom lawmaker Alok Sharma, has told the BBC both India and China will have to “explain themselves” to countries most vulnerable to the effects of rising temperatures after the last minute wording change. 

Meanwhile, in his closing remarks at the climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres commended delegates from around the world on reaching a deal but acknowledged that there is more work to be done.

“Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread,” he said in a video address. “We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.”

The deal includes several key pledges, including an agreement to reduce coal power and fossil fuel subsidies. However, critics say, the commitments are not aggressive enough to avert the worst impacts of climate change and that they do not provide enough support to developing nations disproportionately affected by global warming.

Kofe added that stronger action against climate action was crucial to the survival of Tuvalu and other small island nations, saying larger countries, such as neighboring Australia, should have vowed to take more substantial cuts to their carbon emissions. 

“It really comes down to countries — the big emitters — that need to act on this. But we will continue to push on, we will continue to advocate to, you know, reduce emissions moving forward,” the minister continued.

“What is important now is the implementation plan and moving forward. Making pledges is one thing, but it’s something else to actually see countries act on those,” Kofe said. 

Kofe had urged world leaders to take action against climate change during a speech to the summit Nov. 9. He delivered his appeal submerged up to his knees in water in an area in Tuvalu where there once was dry land.

“We cannot wait for speeches when the sea is rising around us all the time … We must take bold alternative action today to secure tomorrow,” he said in his address. 

Footage of his speech went viral on social media, drawing international attention to the island nation’s plight.

Studies show global carbon emissions must be slashed by 45 percent by 2030 to avoid a temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius, the threshold scientists say is necessary to avoid the most devastating results of climate change.