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Leader of a Sinking Island Admonishes Trump on Climate Change

The Tuvalu prime minister roasted the US president for his obsession with coal.
Enele Sopoaga, Prime Minister and Minister for Public Utilities of Tuvalu, during the Vienna Energy Forum, Vienna International Centre. Image: UNIDO

The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, an island nation in the Pacific, is calling out President Donald Trump for his myopic views on coal and climate change.

Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga told Motherboard no country is seriously interested in fossil fuel expansion anymore. No one in the US financial community wants to invest in fossil fuels, gas and oil projects are shutting down in the middle East.

"The US is going to be left behind. The guy in the White House doesn't understand that," Sopoaga said at the UN energy forum in Vienna this week.


There are more than a thousand energy experts and political leaders embracing renewable energy at this moment. Just one example: All of India's lighting will be replaced by LEDs by 2019, saving millions of dollars and reducing CO2 emissions by 18 million tonnes a year, according to Piyush Goyal India's Minister of Energy. This is far ahead of the US and nearly every other country.

Meanwhile, the White House is in the middle of figuring out if it will pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement. That agreement was not only about reducing CO2 emissions, but every nation to signed it committed to phasing out the use of fossil fuels.

Climate change is an urgent concern for Tuvalu, the world's second smallest country, since it is a mere 10 feet above the Pacific ocean at its highest point. Rising sea levels, driven by man-made climate change, now regularly swamp these tiny islands. Thousands have been forced to move to New Zealand. Without drastic reductions in fossil fuel use, the entire nation will drown.

The island of Tuvalu is home to 10,000 people. Image: Wikimedia Commons

If that happens, it would be to the shame of the entire world, he said. "Our islands are already sinking. Focusing on more fossil fuels will kill the world. What jobs are there on a dead planet?" Sopoaga told me.

It was a 20 year fight for Tuvalu and other small island states to reach the Paris Agreement. There was a very strong political consensus and there is no going back, he said. Meeting these commitments will bring a wide range of benefits, including lower energy costs, less air pollution, green jobs and more, he said.

Another thing the guy in the White House likely doesn't know is that it will take the US five years to withdraw from the the agreement, according to its terms. And even then, other countries will have to agree to it.

"I'm glad we negotiated so hard to get that."