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14 Pacific ​​Island Nations Negotiate World's First Climate Treaty to Ban Fossil Fuels

As coastal erosion and sea level rise eats away the Solomon Islands due to climate change, the Pacific island nations are considering the world's first international treaty that would ban or phase out fossil fuels and set goals for renewables.

The "Pacific Climate Treaty" is currently under consideration after the fourth annual Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) held in the Solomon Islands this week.

During the two-day summit, 14 presidents, prime ministers and ambassadors from the island countries and territories discussed solutions to the Pacific's development challenges.

“[Leaders] seemed convinced that this is an avenue where the Pacific could again show or build on the moral and political leadership that they've shown earlier in their efforts to tackle climate change," Mahendra Kumar, climate change advisor to PIDF, told the Guardian.

The treaty is being utilized as a way to implement the aspirational 1.5 degrees Celsius target set by the Paris COP21 climate talks in the Pacific region, according to the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN), a coalition of NGOs that wrote the treaty.

The proposed treaty will be studied and a report will be presented at the 2017 summit.

"Expressing positive reviews to our proposal, the Leaders agreed to 'note the content of the draft Pacific Climate Treaty and approve that further consultations be undertaken, with a report back at the 5th PIDF Leaders Summit next year' for possible adoption," PICAN wrote on its Facebook page. "This is a major accomplishment for our PICAN team working in partnership with our Government Leaders to lead the sustainable development agenda of the region."

Kumar said the treaty could be ratified in 2018.

The PIDF was created in 2013 by Fiji. This year's summit excluded Australia and New Zealand, which were part of earlier talks. At last year's talks, Australia and New Zealand were criticized by their smaller and developing island neighbors for having less ambitious climate change targets and for not doing more to combat climate change.

Many low-lying nations are under threat as oceans continue to rise. Scientists predict that Kiribati—a remote Island Republic in the Central Pacific—could be lost to rising sea levels in the next 50 years.

Tony de Brum, the Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, said last year that "anything over two degrees ... [and] we go under water."

The Philippines is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather, with the nation suffering violent storms like Typhoon Haiyan. Tropical storms have struck the nation more often and more severely, scientists believe, because of climate change. The Global Climate Risk Index 2015 listed the Philippines as the number one most affected country by climate change, using 2013's data.

The Philippines has long been particularly vulnerable to extreme weather.The Climate Reality Project

“Pacific island leaders are among the most proactive in the world on global warming because their countries are bearing the brunt of climate changes ... Their willingness to consider a Pacific climate treaty shows much-needed leadership on the world's most pressing environmental challenge," Joeteshna Gurdayal Zenos, acting head of Pacfic Net, which is Greenpeace Australia Pacific's climate justice project, told the Guardian.

PICAN said in a report presenting the Pacific Climate Treaty that the potential treaty parties "already possess the political courage and commitment needed to adopt a flagship legal instrument that is sufficiently ambitious to prevent catastrophic changes in the global climate system."

“Such a treaty, when implemented in collaboration with PIDF and civil society, would send a powerful signal to markets, governments and civil society around the world that the end of fossil fuels is near, with Pacific Islanders acting not as victims of climate change but as agents of change," it said. “As there is currently no treaty that bans or phases out fossil fuels, the Treaty would set a pioneering example to the rest of the world."

The treaty includes sections on climate-related migration and adaptation. It would also set up a fund to compensate for communities that have suffered from climate change.

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