For Pacific Island nations like mine, the transition to clean and renewable energy is not just a goal but a necessity for survival 

By Ralph Regenvanu

A few weeks ago, leaders of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) met in Antigua & Barbuda to discuss our next decade of action. This, for us, is the critical decade, no less. We have a few years to change the tides that are swallowing our islands and extinguishing our culture and our identity.

Pacific Island communities are unwilling witnesses of the climate crisis – emitting minuscule amounts of greenhouse gases while bearing the brunt of the extreme and devastating consequences of the world’s failure to break its addiction to fossil fuels.

During that meeting, we heard from some G7 leaders that they will support our priorities, that a fossil fuel phase-out and a just and equitable transition is necessary. But these cannot be hollow words. As the single greatest security threat for our region, it is time to implement your commitments or be held accountable for your lack of inaction by carrying the loss of our future generations on your shoulders.

Just a few months ago, at the UN climate talks in Dubai, countries around the world finally agreed to transition away from fossil fuels. This week in Bonn, any talk of how countries plan to implement this agreement was noticeably absent.

But now, G7 nations – Canada, Japan, Italy, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and France – are gathering at a historic time for climate politics, holding one of the first opportunities to show their leadership by putting the COP28 decision on fossil fuels into action.

This will also be the last time these countries meet before they are required to submit updated and enhanced climate plans through to 2035 under the Paris Agreement. It is a final chance for G7 nations to adopt the measures that are necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Despite having both the capacity and the responsibility to be leaders driving forward a full, fast, fair and funded phase-out of fossil fuels, these countries are not walking the walk – at home or abroad.

Islands as “collateral damage”?

Some G7 countries have plans to massively expand fossil fuel production at home despite science telling us that no new oil, gas, or coal projects are compatible with a safe climate, while others are using billions of the public’s money to finance more fossil fuel infrastructure abroad.

We are urging G7 nations to demonstrate true leadership at the upcoming negotiations, immediately halting the approval of all new fossil fuel projects and committing to 1.5°C-aligned timelines for phasing out existing fossil fuel reliance in a just and equitable manner.

This transition must prioritise the needs of developing countries, which bear the brunt of climate change impacts despite contributing the least to its causes.

G7 countries have already committed to end international public finance for fossil fuel projects but continue approving billions of dollars for fossil fuel infrastructure. They are giving the fossil fuel industry a lifeline, indebting vulnerable countries, and delaying a just energy transition.

In the words of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres: “The idea that an entire island state could become collateral damage for profiteering by the fossil fuel industry is simply obscene.”

There is no shortage of public money to enable a just and equitable transition to renewable energy and turn the COP28 agreement into a reality. It is just poorly distributed to the most harmful parts of the global economy that are driving climate change and inequality: fossil fuels, unfair colonial debts, and the super-rich.

We need G7 countries to pay their fair share on fair terms for fossil fuel phase-out and the other crises we face. Climate finance remains the critical enabler of action – over the course of our meetings in Antigua & Barbuda we heard some G7 countries make commitments and pledges; we also heard a lot of solutions and options that will exacerbate our debt burden.

But for us, it is clear. Climate finance must be scaled up to meet the trillions of dollars needed for adaptation, mitigation, and addressing loss and damage; and sent to where it is most needed – on fair terms that do not further burden our economies with debt.

Hold fossil fuel firms to account

The members of the G7 are among the world’s most powerful and wealthiest nations. They have a responsibility to lead the way both at home and abroad. Anything less is hypocrisy and gross negligence, and risks endangering the implementation of the COP28 decision to transition away from fossil fuels.

The Pacific Island nations have been vocal advocates for ambitious climate action and have led by example for decades. In 2023, our leaders aspired to a Fossil Fuel Free Pacific. We embedded the language of phase-out and transition in our leaders’ declaration.

We have felt the impacts of climate change more acutely than most and have consistently called for comprehensive and equitable global action for the very survival of our nations and for the good of all people and species.

For Pacific Island nations, the transition to clean and renewable energy is not just a goal but a necessity for survival. We call upon the G7 to reflect the highest possible ambition. These countries must acknowledge and support our aspiration for a fossil fuel-free future, setting an example for sustainable development that prioritizes the well-being of people and planet over profit – and ensure that the fossil fuel companies responsible for the climate crisis bear the cost of their actions.

The time for action is now. The fate of our planet hangs in the balance, and the decisions made by the G7 nations will shape our collective future. We implore them to heed the call of the Pacific Island nations and rise to the challenge of the climate crisis with boldness, ambition and urgency. Our shared future depends on it.

Ralph Regenvanu is Vanuatu’s Minister for Climate Change Adaptation, Energy, Environment, Meteorology, Geohazards and Disaster Management.