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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has touched down in New Zealand to begin a landmark Pacific Islands tour focusing on the escalating threat of climate change.

In a press conference with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Auckland, Guterres announced the world was “not on track” to meet global warming commitments and that small Pacific Island countries would be worst affected by climate change.

"We are seeing everywhere a clear demonstration that we are not on track to achieve the objectives defined in the Paris agreement," he told reporters. "And the paradox is that as things are getting worse on the ground, political moves seem to be fading.”

Guterres, however, applauded Ardern and New Zealand for its commitment to tackling global warming. Last week, New Zealand introduced ambitious legislation that will see the nation’s non-agriculture carbon emissions reduced to zero by 2050.

"We are amongst a very small number of nations now who are embedding the goal of no more than 1.5 degrees of warming into our domestic legislation,” Ardern said. “One of the reasons for this is because of our region. We know that islands like the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu will experience devastating effects if we are not able to limit the warming of the climate.”

Guterres will leave New Zealand Tuesday and head to Fiji, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

In Fiji, Guterres will meet with families whose lives have been significantly impacted by rising sea levels and also with government officials from the Pacific Islands Forum. Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilepa Sailele — who has long criticized world leaders who don't believe in climate change — hopes Guterres’ visit to the islands will have a lasting impact.

"[I want] to impress on him the importance of the smallness of our islands, and the quicker moves that our vulnerable islands would like to see from the bigger countries responsible for all these problems that we are facing today," he told ABC’s Pacific Beat program.

Read More: Climate Change Labelled Region's 'Biggest Threat' During Pacific Islands Forum

Pacific Island nations are particularly at threat from the impacts of climate change. Rising sea levels — due to warming seas and melting glaciers and ice sheets — cause flooding, erosion, and lost habitat for humans, animals, and plants. In the past few years, rising seas have entirely wiped out at least eight Pacific Islands.

Guterres’ Pacific Island trip comes four months before the Climate Action Summit in New York. The summit, which Guterres will host, intends to “boost ambition and accelerate actions” by countries toward the objectives laid out in the United Nations’ Paris agreement and Global Goals.


Defend the Planet

United Nations Chief Visits Pacific Islands to Highlight Threats of Climate Change

By Madeleine Keck