On the frontlines of the global climate emergency

May 18, 2019

From New Zealand to Fiji, from Tuvalu to Vanuatu — Secretary-General António Guterres calls for urgent climate action to save Pacific island nations, and the world.

The Secretary-General looks out over the Pacific Ocean. UN Photo/Mark Garten

“Over the past week, I have witnessed first-hand the impacts of climate change in the Pacific Island States. They contribute very little to the global climate emergency and yet, they are the ones that are being most affected. For some of them, climate change is now an existential threat.

“What is remarkable about these countries is that while facing this enormous challenge, they have decided that they are not giving up. They are determined to find solutions and have developed ways to increase their resilience and adaptation. Not only that, but they are leading the way in reducing emissions and are an example that the rest of the world should follow.”

He also used his newly-launched Instagram account to post his impressions of what he was seeing.

New Zealand

In Auckland, the Secretary-General met with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who he praised as a leader on climate action.

“I commended the Prime Minister’s visionary leadership on the global climate emergency, including the target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 — a model for all countries to follow.”

“Wherever I travel, it is important to me to connect with young people so that I can learn from them and hear their views.”

The Secretary-General at a refugee resettlement centre in Auckland, New Zealand. UN Photo/Mark Garten

The Secretary-General also visited children at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre in Auckland, as well, chatting with them and their families about their experiences, hopes and dreams.

The Secretary-General at the Christchurch Wall of Remembrance. UN Photo/Mark Garten

At the Christchurch Wall of Remembrance, the Secretary-General shared a message of solidarity following the March terror attacks.

“I know there are no words to relieve the hurt and sorrow and pain. But I wanted to come here personally to transmit love, support and total and complete admiration,” he said, adding: “In these trying times, I am here to say with a full heart: You are not alone.”

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In Fiji, the Secretary-General discussed the impacts of the global climate emergency with leaders, students and civil society.

“It’s not only the Pacific that’s at stake, it’s the whole planet. People everywhere are starting to feel the impacts, and they will only get worse.”

At the Pacific Island Forum he delivered a strong message to governments around the world:

The Secretary-General with Timoci, a young climate activist from Fiji. UN Photo/Mark Garten

“As Secretary-General I have many battles. As a grandfather, the battle against climate change is the battle of my life. It’s a battle we’re not winning.”

He also got to inspect an innovate climate action solution in action on board the Uto ni Yalo, a traditional emission-free ship built as part of a naval fleet that combines the ancient craft of Pacific shipbuilding with modern materials and green technology.


Traveling onward to the small island of Tuvalu, the Secretary-General saw first-hand the threats posed by rising sea levels due to climate change.

“Nowhere have I seen the heartbreaking impacts of climate change more starkly than in this island nation.”

A family threatened by rising seas waters in Tuvalu. UN Photo/Mark Garten

“I met families whose homes and way of life are at risk because of relentless rising seas, which threaten to drown this beautiful country. I met children who are looking to my generation to secure their future.”

A flooded street in Tuvalu. UN Photo/Mark Garten

“What’s happening to Tuvalu is a sign of what’s in store for us all. I urge you to demand urgent climate action from your leaders. We must save Tuvalu — and save the world.”


The Secretary-General concluded his visit in Vanuatu, one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, made worse by the global climate emergency.

In Vanuatu, the Secretary-General looks out over the Pacific.UN Photo/Mark Garten

“What we ask for is not solidarity, it’s not generosity, it is enlightened self-interest from all decision-makers around the world because it’s not only of the Pacific that is at stake, it’s the whole planet. To save the Pacific is to save the whole planet.”


UN chief outlines ‘intertwined challenges’ of climate change, ocean health facing Pacific nations on the ‘frontline’

UN chief lauds Fijians as ‘natural global leaders’ on climate, environment, hails ‘symbiotic relationship’ with land and sea

Secretary-General’s address to Fijian Parliament

Climate action: 4 shifts the UN chief encourages Governments to make

UN chief praises New Zealand premier’s ‘admirable’ response to Christchurch attacks

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On the frontlines of the global climate emergency was originally published in We The Peoples on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.