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Despite their comparatively insignificant contribution to climate change, Small Island Developing States (“SIDS”) are among the most vulnerable nations to the effects of climate change. Rising sea levels, an increase in extreme weather events, desertification, warming marine habits, and other effects have made climate change an enormous threat for many of these tiny states. Although disproportionately impacted, SIDS are in many ways helpless to prevent climate change from happening and do not have the resources to adequately mitigate its effects.

This has made these nations among the most vocal proponents of international solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation that recognize this imbalance.

Recently, leaders from 14 SIDS have signaled their intention to develop the world’s first international treaty aimed at phasing out fossil fuels. The proposed treaty would introduce binding targets for renewable energy, ban the expansion of coal mines or other fossil fuel mines, and would prohibit states from providing subsidies for fossil fuel consumption or extraction. It would also incorporate the 1.5C aspirational target from the Paris Agreement, which was signed by 195 countries in December 2015.

The proposed treaty, should it eventually be written, signed, and ratified, would  have very little direct impact on CO2 emissions, particularly given that a comparatively infinitesimal share of global emissions emanates from SIDS and little fossil fuel extraction occurs within their territories. However, it would likely have huge symbolic value, perhaps providing inspiration for further multilateral efforts and bolstering the Paris Agreement’s “aspirational” goal of keeping temperature increases capped at 1.5C. It would also likely provide further impetus for SIDS, many of whom are almost entirely dependent upon imported fossil fuels to meet their energy needs, to transition to sustainable energy sources and become more energy secure.

SIDS have long been global leaders on climate change and have undertaken tireless efforts to alert more developed states—who are more directly responsible for CO2 emissions—to their plight. Perhaps most memorably, in 2009 the then-president of the Maldives held a cabinet meeting underwater in an attempt to underscore the threat to his nation’s existence posed by climate change and to encourage leaders at the then-upcoming UN climate conference in Copenhagen to come up with an effective international agreement to combat climate change.

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