Climate Action

Marshall Islands declares Earth Day 2020 deadline for climate action

By Nick Nuttall

Earth Day 2020 has taken wing with the president of the one of the world’s most climate vulnerable countries. Today, Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands, urged nations everywhere to put forward their new and more ambitious national action plans by April 22, 2020.

“Greetings from the front lines of this global climate crisis — a crisis of our own making and from which none of us will be immune,” said President Heine, in a special video address to mark the countdown to Earth Day 2020.

“Earth Day 2020 is more important than ever … By the time we get to April 22nd next year, we will have reached the deadline for when countries originally committed to deliver their new Paris targets,” she said, referencing the four-year anniversary of the signing of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the United Nations international agreement to limit warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 Celsius.

President Heine, also a committed women’s rights campaigner and the first female leader of a Micronesian country, said she welcomed new climate plans put forward by several nations as a result of the September U.N. secretary-general’s climate summit. These national climate plans are also known as enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions.

“But we are still a long way off seeing the ambition we need, especially from the big emitters, to be able to say we have delivered on the promise of Paris and to help ensure a climate safe future for all,” said Heine.

To ensure this future, countries must meet — and often exceed — the national goals they presented for the adoption on the Paris Agreement in 2015. It’s a well-established fact that the national commitments, as they were submitted at the 2015 adoption of the agreement, would limit global warming to something close to 3 degrees Celsius — a far cry from the 1.5 degree target that small-island nations like the Marshall Islands called for with the adoption of the Paris Agreement.

Increased national commitments are essential if we are to come anywhere close to this 1.5 degree goal to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 Special Report on 1.5 Degrees Celsius outlined what’s at stake in a warmer world, especially for low-lying nations like the Marshall Islands, whose coastlines and coral reefs are most vulnerable to climate change. The Marshall Islands’ adaptation plan includes securing funding to raise islands in order to remain a habitable and secure place for its citizens to live.

“Earth Day 2020 is, therefore, a pivotal moment for my people and for our planet. And my message today is very simple: We need to make the most of it,” said President Heine.

President Heine also said she requested for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to hold a special ceremony on Earth Day 2020, where world leaders can deposit their more ambitious climate action plans well before the U.N. climate conference (COP26), hosted by the United Kingdom later that year.

With a nod to the youth climate movement, sparked by the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, President Heine said Earth Day 2020 also offered an opportunity to recognize “the powerful role students and young people are playing in this fight.”

President Heine also pointed to the Kwon Gesh pledge or statement, jointly launched by the Marshall Islands and Ireland at the Youth Climate Summit in September, as a way of recognizing the role of youth. The Kwon Gesh pledge invites countries to include young people in the climate decision-making processes of governments. To date, more than 40 countries have signed the pledge.

This youth-forward thinking reflects Earth Day Network’s campaign EARTHRISE, the largest, most diverse global mobilization in history in defense of the environment. The campaign will continue to build the momentum established by the existing global climate strikes.

President Heine’s video statement today comes as the U.N. World Meteorological Organization released a report that showed greenhouse emissions reaching record levels in 2018. Today the U.N. Environment Programme also released a gap report that highlighted the growing emissions gap between countries’ current emissions and the targets set in the Paris Agreement — the longer countries delay cutting their emissions, the more drastic cuts will need to be in the future.

“If we are to succeed as a movement, or not, will depend on our ability to increase our ambition by Earth Day 2020 and to reach net-zero emissions by the time we get to Earth Day 2050,” said President Heine.

If higher ambition is not secured by Earth Day 2020, April 22 will be the day when the world must sound “the global alarm,” said President Heine. “So let’s get to work.”

Nick Nuttall is Strategic Communications Director at Earth Day Network and former U.N. Spokesperson for the Paris Climate Agreement.

Photo at top: Hilda Heine, President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventy-third session. Photo credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak