RMI on 50-year clock

The Marshall Islands delegation to COP27 in Egypt, led by Minister John Silk, third from right in front.

The Marshall Islands delegation to the global climate summit COP27 in Egypt this past week released the “RMI Statement of Intent on Adaptation” — which underscores the emerging climate reality that in the lifetime of today’s elementary age population, much of the Marshall Islands may become uninhabitable. Marshall Islands delegates to COP27 are telling the world the country needs help “to retain somewhere that we Marshallese can call home.”

“Climate scientists estimate that within as little as 50 years, the Marshall Islands will have encountered sea level rise of around 20 inches,” said Climate Change Directorate Director Clarence Samuel. “Beyond this point, because of recurrent wave over-wash, many of our atolls will become uninhabitable.”

Samuel itemized the devastation this level of sea level rise will cause the Marshall Islands. “Groundwater forced upwards by rising sea levels will flood the two main urban centers of Majuro and Ebeye, home to 70 percent of our population, to such an extent that buildings, infrastructure and land will be rendered unusable. Our seat of government and the core of our economic activities, our medical, education and other essential services, our businesses, our homes, our gardens, our families, our pets — all of it will be dislocated and need to be relocated. The challenge of adapting to this is monumental. Indeed, how does any small nation adapt to such circumstances without global assistance.”

Echoing these sentiments, RMI Climate Envoy Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, underlined key messages that the Marshall Islands is telling the world: “What becomes clear from the science and observation which has fed the development of our Statement of Intent and national adaptation planning is that to survive as a nation-state, the Marshall Islands must not just once, but continually adapt, as sea levels rise,” said Jetnil-Kijiner. “If we don’t, our nation will be overrun by the sea. To retain a presence as a nation-state beyond 2150, we will need to protect selected land against sea level rise of 6.6 feet.”

She went on to say that, “Of course, to do this will take human, technical and financial resources that are well beyond the reach of our nation. So, we need the support of the global community to retain somewhere that we Marshallese can call home.”
This is a key message stressed by the RMI delegation at COP27. The Marshall Islands is one of the nations most vulnerable to sea level rise caused by climate change, yet one of the nations least responsible for it.

“Disinterest, inaction and insufficient support from leaders of the developed world are no longer acceptable to the global community,” said a press statement issued by the Marshall Islands government on COP27 developments.

The RMI Statement of Intent stresses that “business as usual” for adaptation efforts is no longer tenable. Piecemeal adaptation activities will no longer suffice. Successful adaptation planning and implementation in future will require a long-term focus, with financing and support mechanisms to match. Current global funding models are not suited to the large scale, transformative adaptation projects that are required by countries like the Marshall Islands, say RMI officials.

Samuel concluded his comments by stating that, “we hope the message is clear to all. The rich and developed countries must scale up their support, their commitment and their actions. What happens next determines the future of our children.”

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