By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK, Sept 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Marshall Islands, an atoll-nation vulnerable to sea level rise from climate change, announced steps on Monday towards an ambitious plan to cut its greenhouse emissions to zero by 2050.
The Pacific country became the first small island nation to present such a strategy to the United Nations amid increasing interest from governments worldwide towards eliminating planet-warming emissions in a bid to curb man-made climate change.
"If we can do it so can you," Hilda Heine, Marshall Islands president, said at an event on the sidelines of the annual U.N. summit that featured a handful of heads of small island nations.
The announcement came as more than 150 heads of state and government gathered on Monday for the annual United Nations General Assembly.
Heine upped the pressure on world leaders to go beyond current pledges to reduce their heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions as agreed in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
"I challenge you all to develop your own vision to fully decarbonize by 2050," she told an audience of climate policymakers and advocates brought together by US non-profit The Climate Group.
Worldwide, nine other countries have so far unveiled long-term plans to completely eradicate carbon emissions at home, from Britain to France and the United States under the administration of former US president Barack Obama.
Since then, the United States has become the only country to announce its intention to withdraw from the Paris pact, following a decision by President Donald Trump last year.
The Paris accord aims to limit the rise in global temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), and ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius, with a sweeping goal of ending the fossil fuel era this century.
Aseem Prakash, founding director of the University of Washington's Center for Environmental Politics, said the Marshall Islands' move spoke to a growing trend around carbon neutrality by cities, companies, and now countries.
Cities, regions and companies, including Indian conglomerate Mahindra and the state of California, made similar carbon-zero commitments in the run-up and at a global climate summit held in San Franciscoearlier this month.
The announcement was charged with symbolism, said Prakash, with the Marshall Islands contributing less than 0.00001% of the global total of emissions.
The Marshall Islands' net-zero strategy, in addition to seeking to slow climate change in the transport, electricity and waste sector, stresses the need to invest into adapting to freak weather events linked to global warming, from hurricanes to floods, said Heine.
At the event New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pledged $300 million over four years to help Pacific countries set up defenses to ward off the impact of climate change.
"The challenge of climate change requires us to look beyond our domestic borders," she said in a press release.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)