In September the Marshall Islands, is to be the site of the Pacific Islands Forum, under the theme "Marshalling the Pacific Response to Climate Challenge."
Noting that former U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton attended last year's forum, Tony de Brum, senator and vice president of the Marshall Islands, told The Guardian newspaper in Australia this week that "we very much expect" that current Secretary John Kerry would also attend.
At the forum, the country will propose a Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership -- named for its capital -- to "galvanize more urgent and concrete action on climate change from governments, business and other stakeholders."
The Marshall Islands, located in the northern Pacific Ocean, has a population of about 68,000 spread over 34 low-lying coral atolls, comprising 1,156 individual islands and islets. The average height of the islands is about 6 feet above sea level.
Already, it is experiencing the effects of climate change, mostly from rising sea levels which have caused flooding and inundation of crops, de Brum says.
"Within my lifetime, I have seen islands disappear off the face of the Earth," he said.
"We are running out of drinking water. The bananas and limes and grapefruits are dying because the water underneath them is salty."
Australia's science agency CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology concluded in a 2011 report that the Marshall Islands' sea levels were rising at a rate of about 0.275 of an inch a year.
In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp. this week, de Brum warned that rising sea levels will create a humanitarian crisis in the region. If climate change continues as it is now, he said, there could be 2 million people from the Pacific who will become refugees. Most of them would likely seek asylum in Australia.
De Brum said the Pacific atoll countries -- Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and the Maldives – are all vulnerable to climate change.
"They've already been crying out for help and attention from the bigger powers," he told WAtoday, a Perth, Australia, newspaper.
He called for Australia to use its clout with the United States and China, as well as its two-year position -- 2013-15 -- as one of the 10 non-permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, to ensure that global warming is kept to less than 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century rather than the feared scenario of 4 degrees.
"If we do not make our 2-degree ambition, if it goes up to 4 degrees, we are condemning small island countries to never-never land, to displacement and non-existence," de Brum told WAtoday. "What happens if 2 million Pacific Islanders need to move?"