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Island nations react to devastating U.N. climate change report: "We are on the edge of extinction"

U.N. climate report issues dire warning
U.N. climate report issues dire warning 02:05

The United Nations released a climate change report on Monday that issued a "code red for humanity," warning that human-caused climate change is set to cause "unprecedented" extreme events if immediate global actions aren't taken. For the dozens of island nations across the world, the report confirmed that they are "on the edge of extinction." 

Since the report's publication, numerous officials and ambassadors for island nations have spoken out about the dire situation they face should the world not heed the U.N.'s warning. 

"This report is devastating news for the most climate-vulnerable countries like the Maldives," former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed tweeted Monday. "It confirms we are on the edge of extinction. Climate emergency is intensifying, we are on the front lines." 

The U.N.'s report, which was written by more than 230 scientists from around the world, details how human activity, namely the burning of fossil fuels, is causing a cycle of environmental destruction. The excessive burning of fossil fuels creates strikingly high levels of greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere and cause temperatures to rise. The warming causes ice to melt at unprecedented rates for modern times and causes sea levels to rise. 

Sea-level rise is at its highest now than at any point in at least 3,000 years, increasing by roughly 8 inches from 1901 to 2018, according to the U.N. report. That pace is only accelerating, and warming the ocean in the process. 

The ocean is filled with various currents that act like conveyor belts to regulate global climate and distribute both warm and cool water around the world. But as it warms, its currents slow and the ability to regulate weakens, creating more opportunity for disastrous weather events to happen. 

Monday's U.N. report warned that if the world hits 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, which is anticipated to happen in the next decade or so, the world will see "extreme events unprecedented in the observational record." That includes tropical cyclones, precipitation, drought and heat waves. 

Shauna Aminath, the Maldives' Minister of the Environment, Climate Change and Technology, said that climate change is "the single biggest existential threat to us." 

"We need urgent and immediate action to reduce our emissions to prevent further humanitarian, economic and health crises," Aminath tweeted on Monday. "The time to act was yesterday, the next best time to act is now."

The Maldives, a nation of islands in the Indian Ocean, is a popular tourist destination, known for its crystal clear turquoise waters. But according to NASA, it is also the world's lowest-lying country, and the Maldives Ministry of the Environment warns these potential events will be "devastating." 

"Monsoon precipitation is changing in complex ways...Climate change is intensifying...More frequent, severe coastal flooding and erosion will occur due to continued sea level rise throughout the 21st century," the ministry says. "Sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century." 

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), which consists of 39 small islands and low-lying coastal states across the world, said that the report is a "major alert for the world."

"The scientists have shared a dire warning that every single tonne of carbon added to the atmosphere will contribute to stronger warming, and that we must take concerted action immediately to curb the worst of it," AOSIS Chair and U.N. Ambassador for Antigua and Barbuda Aubrey Webson said in a statement. "As we have continuously advocated, implementation of the Paris Agreement is essential to keep the 1.5 degree Celsius goal alive, and it is imperative that world power to step up and save lives and livelihoods right now." 

Antigua and Barbuda AOSIS Ambassador Diann Black-Layne said the U.N. report confirms what small island states are already experiencing — "that cyclones are getting more intense, and that sea levels are rising." 

The U.N. report did say that the devastating effects of the climate crisis can be curbed — but not for much longer. 

To accomplish this, the world would have to reach net zero CO2 emissions and reduce other greenhouse gases, particularly methane, the report said. 

Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison said during a press conference on Tuesday that even for larger islands like Australia, the U.N. report affirms that the world faces a "serious challenge" that must be quickly addressed by other nations. 

"We cannot ignore the fact that the developing world accounts for two thirds of global emissions, and those emissions are rising. That is a stark fact," Morrison said. "...We need to focus on the technological breakthroughs that are necessary to change the world and how we operate, and make sure that is done right across the world, not just in advanced countries."

Henry Puna, secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum, said in a statement that it's up to humanity to make a choice "to make this a turning point." 

"We have lost the luxury of time. ... We are on the brink of a climate catastrophe," Puna said. "...Governments, big business, the major emitters of the world can no longer ignore the voices of those already enduring this unfolding existential crisis. They can no longer choose rhetoric over action. There are simply no more excuses to be had. Our actions today will have consequences now and into the future for all of us to bear." 

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