“Polluters must pay. Today, I am calling on all developed economies to tax the windfall profits of fossil-fuel companies.
“Those funds should be re-directed in two ways: to countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis; and to people struggling with rising food and energy prices.”
On Friday, New York time, the President, of Vanuatu, Nikenike Vurobaravu became the first national leader to call for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels.
“Every day, we are experiencing more debilitating consequences of the climate crisis. Fundamental human rights are being violated, and we are measuring climate change not in degrees of Celsius or tonnes of carbon, but in human lives,” he told the General Assembly.
“This emergency is of our own making. Our youth are terrified of the future world we are handing to them through expanding fossil-fuel dependency, compromising intergenerational trust and equity. We call for the development of a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to phase down coal, oil and gas production in line with 1.5 degrees, and enable a global just transition for every worker, community and nation with fossil fuel dependence.”
The idea for a treaty against fossil fuel has won support of many non-government organisations as well as groups such as the World Health Organisation, but it has never before been championed by a national leader.
Vurobaravu’s speech also highlights the increasingly central role of politicians from small island states in global climate diplomacy.
Recently, Guterres appointed another small island politician to a key role, making Grenadian Simon Stiell executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
He, too, called for more action from the world, signalling in a speech his growing frustration at the word “challenge” being used to describe the climate crisis.
“As a former businessman and environment minister from a small-island nation, I’ve heard that word, challenge, a lot in relation to climate change: Sea level rise is a challenge. Extreme weather is a challenge. The loss of lives and livelihoods is a challenge,” he said.
“With all due respect, these aren’t challenges — they’re threatening emergencies.
“So, let me be clear, we are in an emergency — and the enormous bedrock of science that this process is built upon clearly shows that we are a species in trouble.
“Greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise to record highs, and fossil-fuel emission rates are now above pre-pandemic levels.”
Though Biden used his time at the UN to castigate Russia, the growing role of small island nations and in particular the Pacific has been evident in broader diplomatic efforts. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosted a meeting of a new diplomatic grouping known as Partners in the Blue Pacific. Representatives from nations including Australia, Japan and Korea as well as Canada, France and Germany attended alongside Pacific island ministers.
Next week, Biden will host the first ever the US-Pacific Island Country Summit in Washington in an apparent effort to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.
Though these forums are not designed specifically to address climate change, the regions’ leaders have made it clear they see climate as their single most significant security threat.
The centrality of climate to the region has not been lost on China. Earlier this month its chief climate diplomat, Xie Zhenhua, hosted a climate conference in Beijing attended by representatives of nations including Vanuatu, Samoa, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Micronesia, Fiji and Tonga.
“As a responsible major country, China takes very seriously the special difficulties and concerns of PICs [Pacific island countries] in addressing climate change,” the Chinese foreign ministry reported.
“Over the years, China has provided PICs with material assistance and capacity-building training and other support to enhance their capacity to cope with climate change. China is ready to stay in close communication and cooperation with the PICs.”
Guterres’ heated rhetoric appeared to spill over into proceedings at Climate Week, an annual event held concurrently with the General Assembly each year in New York.
During a Climate Week event hosted by The New York Times newspaper David Malpass, who was appointed World Bank president by Donald Trump, was asked if he accepted that burning fossil fuels was causing climate change.
“I don’t even know. I’m not a scientist,” he responded.
Given the World Bank’s crucial role in financing efforts to combat climate change impacts in developing nations, his comment prompted calls from climate groups for his resignation. One of the bank’s directors, German economic official Jochen Flasbarth tweeted: “We are concerned about this confusing signals about scientific evidence of #climatechange from the top of @WorldBank.”
By Thursday, Malpass was in damage control, telling CNN he was not a climate denier and sending a memo to staff that was later obtained by the Times that read in part, “it’s clear that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are causing climate change, and that the sharp increase in the use of coal, diesel, and heavy fuel oil in both advanced economies and developing countries is creating another wave of the climate crisis.”
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