Dear Secretary Kerry, Join the Pacific Fight Against Climate Change

An open letter from Christopher J. Loeak, President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands

Dear Mr Secretary,

For those of us weathering the devastating consequences of climate change, President Obama's recent pledge to revive American leadership on the issue could not be more welcome. The President said that the U.S. has a "moral obligation" to lead the fight against the carbon pollution that has triggered the "global threat of our time." We could not agree more. It's time to turn the President's words into action. This is why I have written to you, Mr Secretary, to invite you to attend the Pacific Islands Forum in September.

As one of only four atoll island countries anywhere in the world, my country, the Marshall Islands, is in the eye of a gathering climate storm. In May, I was forced to declare a state of disaster as our northern islands wilted under the effects of a climate-driven drought. A mere six weeks later, a king tide and rising oceans topped the sea walls in our capital, Majuro, flooding the airport runway and many neighborhoods, including my own. Climate change has arrived in the Marshall Islands. Unless the world changes course now, my fragile country, and many countries like it, will be lost forever.

Lying just six feet above the water some 2,000 miles south-west of Hawai'i, there is no doubt that the Marshall Islands stands at the front line. But our story here is quickly becoming the story of people everywhere. Of course, the United States is not immune.

The U.S. Gulf coast, New York, New Jersey and the Chesapeake Bay are already at the mercy of the rising seas. Scientists have told us that the deadly hurricanes and tornadoes we have seen in recent years will become more intense and frequent as we continue to pollute our atmosphere with planet-warming greenhouse gases. It is little wonder that New York City and Louisiana are embarking on bold new plans to protect their shorelines and critical infrastructure.

That, however, is to say nothing of Washington's strategic interests in the region, such as your military base on the Marshall Islands' own Kwajalein Atoll, which is destined to go underwater if the world fails to wean itself off its carbon-intensive ways. The U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Samuel Locklear clearly had this in mind when, earlier this year, he called climate change "the biggest long-term security threat in the Pacific region."

The risks and threats posed by climate change are common to both of our countries, and our history and bonds run deep. Following the visit of then-Secretary of State Clinton to last year's Pacific Island Forum in the Cook Islands, this year will be the first time since 1999 that the Forum has been hosted in the "American Pacific."

To focus discussions, we have decided on the theme 'Marshalling the Pacific Response to the Climate Challenge.' This reflects our belief that, with the countries of the Pacific Rim accounting for more than 60 percent of global emissions and rising, the real fight against climate change must begin here. In June, President Obama asked if the U.S. would have the courage to act before it is too late. If the U.S. is serious about rolling up its sleeves and renewing its global leadership on climate change, you will pivot to the Pacific and join us in Majuro.

Once here, we will want you to support our 'Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership,' which we hope will kick off a new wave of political momentum to tackle the challenge of our generation. The Declaration will recognize that we have reached a fork in the road, that business as usual will lead to catastrophe, and that we have a common moral obligation to avert it. The Declaration will provide a platform for governments, business, and other stakeholders to register specific new commitments for immediate action that will help take us down the path to a safe climate future. President Obama's Climate Action Plan, and the U.S.' new bilateral initiatives with China and India, are welcome cases in point.

Mr Secretary, we are fighting a war for the survival of my country, and to save yours from havoc as well. With UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon due to call world leaders together next year to lift ambition and build political momentum for a new global treaty in 2015, the next 12 months must be marked by a new sense of purpose, and a new wave of climate leadership. The U.S. must be at the forefront. Standing in Majuro, looking out to the ever-rising seas, there is no better place to start.

Yours in hope,

Christopher J. Loeak
President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands

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