During the Pacific Island Forum, Australia, New Zealand and 13 Heads of State from other Pacific nations made a landmark declaration -- calling for the full phase-out of greenhouse gas pollution, acknowledging that current efforts to tackle climate change are insufficient.
The Majuro declaration for Climate Leadership is surprisingly strong considering these types of documents are usually intent on satisfying the least ambitious parties -- Australia and New Zealand, in this case. But the text, adopted at the 44th Pacific Island Forum, appeals for urgent action, commits all signatories to be "climate leaders" and calls for an energy revolution.
For me, two things stand out in particular.
First, the declaration explicitly recognizes the need for a complete "phase down" of greenhouse gas emissions. Not "x% emissions by date y" -- the sort of language that is important from a scientific perspective but has little meaning for the general public. The idea of a phase down makes clear that in the long run we need to eliminate greenhouse gas pollution altogether.
This implies that we must stop investing in the development of new sources of fossil fuels, or new infrastructure such as coal-fired power stations that lock in greenhouse gas pollution for 50 years or more.
It implies that we need to stop subsidizing our continued dependence on fossil fuels. For every dollar we spend subsidizing renewables, we spend six subsidizing fossil fuels. Fatih Birol, chief economist for the International Energy Agency, calls fossil fuel subsidies "public enemy number one." And it implies that everyone must do his or her part to achieve not just a lo- carbon future, but in the long-term a net-zero one.
Second, the declaration recognizes the complete insufficiency of current efforts to address climate change, and accepts a collective responsibility to act with urgency. It demonstrates that many Pacific Island states already have ambitious plans to transition away from fossil fuels, and calls on others around the world to follow their lead.
In essence, the agreement reframes the "I won't move till you move first" stance we've come to expect at the United Nations climate negotiations, to one of "I'm moving ahead and I invite you to move with me." Given that many countries are doing more at home than what they are prepared to commit to in the context of the negotiations, this kind of approach could be a game changer.