Rising sea levels are threatening to swallow up the Palau archipelago. During her visit there, Foreign Minister Baerbock gets a personal impression of the obvious damage caused by erosion and the concerns of the people. Then she finds clear words.

During a visit to the South Pacific, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called for an international effort to combat global warming. “The climate emergency is not an isolated crisis. It is the most difficult security problem of our time,” said the Green politician in the island state of Palau, which is threatened with extinction. The Russian war of aggression seems thousands of kilometers away. However, its effects hit those hardest who were suffering from the climate crisis – including floods, droughts and violent storms.

Threatened Pacific nations have repeatedly warned of the consequences of climate change at international climate negotiations, Baerbock admitted in the speech, which was held in English. “But we have to admit that our response as an international community has been insufficient, our support too limited.” Now it is “really time that we not only listen to you from afar, but that we actually come here”.

The last time a German foreign minister traveled to Palau was 120 years ago. In order to provide better and long-term support to nations threatened by rising sea levels, she appointed diplomat Beate Grzeski as special envoy for the Pacific island states. Grzeski is now the direct contact person for the archipelago. Palau seems like a real paradise, said Baerbock. “But we can also imagine what will happen to this peaceful paradise if sea levels rise any further.” For example, schools that are built near the coast no longer offer children a safe place. Cultural sites could literally perish. And many residents would have to ask themselves a terrible question: “A question that I personally can hardly imagine: ‘Will our houses still be here in 30 or 50 years?'”

No region of the world is suffering as much from the climate crisis as the Pacific States – even though their share of global greenhouse gas emissions is so small. “This is a blatant injustice,” said Baerbock. In order to achieve the desired climate goals, the world’s largest CO₂ emitters in particular would have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more quickly, including Germany. “We are not oceans apart, we stand side by side,” Baerbock called out to the people of Palau.

The minister had previously informed herself about the dramatic effects of the global climate crisis during a visit to the island of Ngkesill, which is one of the “Rock Islands”. Baerbock took a boat to the island, which is part of an approximately 40-kilometer-long archipelago in central Palau that is bordered by a dense coral reef. She walked barefoot on the white sandy beach and looked from there at small islands in the turquoise ocean overgrown with jungle. However, she was also shown the effects of erosion, trees uprooted by storms and washed-up plastic waste.

The pollution of the seas makes life difficult for marine ecosystems. In Palau, for example, sea turtles are migrating because their habitat and the opportunity to build nests is shrinking. The archipelago consists of up to 500 islands, none of which are permanently inhabited. According to the federal government, the nature reserve there offers rare manatees, 13 shark species, more than 350 different coral species, birds, bats and plants a habitat that is largely untouched by tourism. A large part of the archipelago was declared a World Natural and Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2012.

In the municipality of Melekeok on the east coast of the island of Badeldaob, which is known for its long sandy beaches, Baerbock also inspected erosion damage on the local beach and spoke to concerned residents. The minister also sought dialogue with fishermen affected by climate change. Consultations with Palau’s foreign minister, Gustav Aitaro, are planned for the afternoon in the capital, Ngerulmud.

Ngerulmud has about 250 inhabitants and is often referred to as the smallest capital in the world. From 1899 to 1914 Palau was a German colony. Even before she left, Baerbock had emphasized that the rising sea level was threatening to swallow Palau. The inhabitants lost their livelihood. This is a reminder to act as a community. If you want to survive in the fight against the climate crisis and in maintaining the global order, the experience and voice of smaller states like Palau are also important.