Palau president Tommy Remengesau Jr. is part of a change that the world needs to see. His nation might consist of a mere 20,000 citizens, but his message is directed at the entire globe. Remengesau says that climate change is like a dark cloud over his people. "It's a real threat," says the calm, soft-voiced leader. "We are not visualizing it we are experiencing it."
Low-lying archipelagoes like Palau are among the ecosystems in which the climate change destined to hit other nations tomorrow is a reality today. Coral bleaching, rising sea levels and drought all now threaten Palau. Remengesau warns that his country's plight is just the first installment of what the rest of the world might expect if current trends continue.
One of eight children, Remengesau grew up in a family in which waste was discouraged, and his father, the country's fourth President, set an example of community leadership. Now 51, Remengesau entered politics in 1984 as Palau's youngest Senator. In 1992, he became Vice President and in 2000 was elected President.
Conservation is no marginal portfolio in Palauan politics. Some 100,000 tourists visit each year, and it is for the diving, sport fishing and ecotourism that they are prepared to travel to a tiny speck some 500 miles (800 km) southeast of the Philippines. "The environment is our economy," say Remengesau. "The economy is our environment."
Now he has challenged his neighbors to join the fight. Speaking to 20 island leaders at the Pacific Island Conference of Leaders in May, Remengesau described the way in which Palau has set aside for conservation 20% of its land area and 30% of the ocean close to its shore. A number of Palau's neighbors, including the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, have also adopted the program. "It is simply time. Time for each Pacific leader to make conservation a priority," Remengesau told delegates. Part of a change that the world needs to see.
James Woodford is an Australia-based environmental journalist and author of four books
Next José Goldemberg