MAJURO, Marshall Islands (AFP) - The threat that climate change poses to Pacific Island nations shows that international action on the issue is overdue, European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said on Monday.
On the eve of this week's Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in the Marshall Islands, Hedegaard expressed concern that some countries may try to delay a 2015 deadline for implementing reductions in emissions and increasing reliance on alternative energy sources.
She said Europe and the Pacific island nations would work together to push the international community to honour the deadline.
"We have to make a joint pressure to say the world is already more than late (in addressing climate change)," she told a conference in the capital Majuro.
"2015 must be taken seriously."
Hedegaard said that even though the Pacific islands were not responsible for climate change, they were willing to accept tough emissions targets, making it difficult for other nations not to follow suit.
The 15 PIF nations include islands states such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, where many atolls are barely a metre above sea level and risk being engulfed by rising waters.
The PIF is set to finalise a "Majuro Declaration" on climate change this week, which aims to reinvigorate global efforts to contain global warming.
Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga said the situation was "dire" and the Pacific needed immediate action, not vague promises to do something a few years down the track.
"We need concrete action on the ground to save Tuvalu, Marshall Islands and Kiribati," he said.
"We have to send a very strong signal out of this panel and Forum that we need a legally binding agreement (on greenhouse gas emissions)."
The plan is to then present the declaration to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the General Assembly meeting in New York at the end of September, "to reenergise the international community".
While climate change is the central theme of the four-day summit, a raft of other issues will be discussed by the island leaders and dialogue partners attending the event, including diplomats from the United States, China, the European Union, India and Russia.
These include sustainable development, increasing islanders' control of the US$4.0 billion (S$5.09 billion) a year tuna industry and protecting marine life in the vast ocean territories belonging to PIF members through measures such as shark protection.