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Island leaders' hearts sink over Trump's Paris Accord pullout

Strong response by vulnerable Pacific nations reflects alarm over climate change

AUCKLAND -- Pacific Island nations, many suffering the impact of rising sea levels connected to climate change, have been angered by U.S. President Donald Trump's decision on Thursday to pull out of a treaty aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama expressed "grave disappointment" at the move.

"The decision by the Trump administration to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change is deeply disappointing, especially for the citizens of vulnerable nations throughout the world," Bainimarama said in a statement issued soon after Trump's announcement.

He said it was also a disappointment for people in the U.S., noting that flooding related to global warming threatens coastal cities such as New York and Miami.

Bainimarama is leading opposition in the Pacific region to Trump's decision, as Fiji chairs the upcoming Conference of the Parties (COP 23) to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, which will be held in Bonn, Germany in November.

He had issued a direct appeal to Trump earlier this year on behalf of Pacific nations.

"As incoming president of COP 23, I did what I could -- along with many leaders around the world -- to try to persuade President Trump to remain standing shoulder to shoulder with us as, together, we tackle the greatest challenge our planet has ever faced," Bainimarama said. "While the loss of America's leadership is unfortunate, this is a struggle that is far from over."

The world agreed with and was committed to implementation of the Paris Agreement, Bainimarama said.

The prime minister said he would do everything possible to continue to "forge a grand coalition that will accelerate the momentum that has continued since the Paris Agreement, embracing governments, civil society, the private sector and millions of ordinary men and women around the world."

Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine said Trump's decision was disappointing and confusing.

The Marshalls, composed entirely of low-lying atolls, is in free association with the U.S. and hosts a big American military base. Heine said the Marshall Islands' commitment to the Paris Agreement would never waiver. "We must not give up hope. Our children and their children deserve not only to survive, they deserve to thrive," she said.

Another all-atoll nation, Tuvalu, is also alarmed. Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, who was in Fiji, said Friday that the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty would not stop the Pacific's campaign for change.

"It's a concern to Tuvalu because we thought we were with the U.S.A., because they were here during World War II," he told Fiji's state broadcaster.

"We provided our islands as a launching pad for them to achieve their objectives, and now [that] we are facing the biggest war of our time, they are abandoning us. It's really an act of abandoning small island countries like Tuvalu."

Sopoaga added that island nations should continue to paddle their own canoes and get everyone else on board. "I am also convinced that the United States government will eventually rejoin our struggle because the scientific evidence of man-made climate change is well understood. The issue is settled, and the impacts are obvious. And humankind ignores these facts at its peril."

Paula Bennett, New Zealand's climate change minister and acting prime minister, said she was very disappointed with Trump's action and fundamentally disagreed with it.

"Him saying that he is putting the U.S. first is the one that I most strongly disagree with," she told a talk radio station. "I think, actually, the U.S. needs to be reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and there's jobs in that, there's jobs in clean energy."

Nongovernmental groups represented by the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network said Trump's move angered them all, but they would not be perturbed.

"We expect all other countries to redouble their efforts to confront the climate crisis," said Krishneil Narayanthe coordinator of the umbrella group. "We here in the Pacific island countries are really going to double our action to help with ensuring that the world is going to support the Paris Agreement, and implement climate action."

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