Last month, the people of Fiji experienced a storm with unprecedented destructive force, leaving at least 42 people dead and displacing more than 8,500 people in the region. Cyclone Winston was one of the strongest storms hitting the Southern Hemisphere to date, but it certainly won't be the last. If the world fails to uphold the climate commitments it made in Paris last year, such incidents are likely to increase in scale and frequency at a global scale.
Over the century to come, half a degree will be the difference between life and death for millions, mainly in developing countries. As scientists have told us, the more ambitious objective to limit global warming not to 2˚C, but to 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels enshrined in the Paris accord can significantly limit the risks of extreme weather events, give natural systems more of a chance to adapt to global warming, and substantially slow sea-level rise. For the world's most vulnerable people, success in Paris was the result of this single breakthrough
Success has many parents. Many individuals, organizations, and countries can justly claim a share of the credit for the agreement reached at the climate talks in Paris in December. The survival of the 1.5°C target through each revision of the Paris text was the result of the incredible leadership and energy marshaled by the world's vulnerable countries.
In the Climate Vulnerable Forum, over 40 low- and middle-income countries from Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific made it a red line. This unity and robust sense of purpose drew in civil society, who echoed the call for the 1.5°C ceiling throughout the halls of the Paris talks. Key industrialised countries were quick to respond to this plea, particularly France and Germany. They helped forge the 'High Ambition Coalition' composed of developed and developing countries, including the US, Japan, Brazil, Canada and Australia. Joined by many developing countries, the coalition helped to bridge North-South divides in the last negotiation stages that were key to reaching an agreement in Paris.
If however these landmark Paris decisions aren't followed up with appropriate policies, we will remain on our current pathway towards a 3 degree-world. Warming on that scale would greatly multiply risks that are already undermining health, development and the environment today. We need to slash projected warming in half by moving much faster and implementing deeper changes to the global economy than are envisaged by national climate plans submitted in the run-up to the Paris talks.
It sounds daunting, yet this is good news. Enormous benefits are to be gained from reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Not only will cutting emissions and lowering warming reduce the devastation wrought by extreme weather. It will also lower the seven million person-a-year global air pollution death toll, which according to the WHO is more than alcohol or tobacco.
Action from the EU is key. The EU joined the call for 1.5°C in the final hours of the Paris conference. But we cannot leave implementation of the policies needed to reduce emissions to the last hour. Instead, we need Europe to lead by adjusting its climate commitments to respect the 1.5°C limit, as laid out in the Paris Agreement.
This means more ambitious EU emission targets. Before Paris, Europe pledged to reduce emissions to "at least" 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Given the outcome of the Paris talks, we are now expecting Europe, like everyone, to revisit targets in the light of the 1.5°C aspiration. Support offered to developing countries also needs to be reviewed - in both financial and capacity-building terms - to help accelerate the global transition to a common low carbon future. Certainly, the agreement forged in Europe should be more than just paper.
If Europe leads, others will follow. Members of the 43-nation Climate Vulnerable Forum, led by the Philippines and Ethiopia as the incoming chair, have already pledged to increase the ambition of their national actions in order to add to the momentum.
In Paris, the Vulnerable Twenty, or V20, Group of Finance Ministers also announced the target to mobilise $20 billion in new funds for climate action by 2020, drawing from public, private, international, regional and domestic sources. The aim is to fund ambitious climate action in a group of countries traditionally constrained by a lack of investment. Despite the challenges, in the spirit of shared climate leadership, we are prepared to do all we can to contribute to global climate action.
Continued international collaboration is critical. The support of major economies such as the EU, the US, China and Japan will be fundamental for vulnerable and developing countries. Capacity building, technical assistance and adequate finance can ensure that countries with few resources are equipped to realise their ambitions.
Success at the UN talks in Paris has changed the debate around climate change. For the first time, the international community has set itself a clear objective that -- if achieved -- will spare us all from the worst ravages of global warming. We need Europe to stand side-by-side with us as it did in Paris. Winston has shown once more that the world is already more exposed to climate change than we like to think. We have a window to change course, but if we are to ensure the safety of current and future generations, the time for action is now.