CNN  — 

Tall and stony-faced, with a long and bitter history of fighting for democracy, Tongan leader Akilisi Pōhiva is not someone you’d expect to break down in tears at an intergovernmental summit.

At a meeting of Pacific leaders last month in the tiny island nation of Tuvalu, other attendees said Pōhiva was overcome with emotion as he tried to secure Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s support for a more forceful approach to tackling the climate crisis.

He was not the only one frustrated by Morrison’s apparent lack of concern for the danger that smaller Pacific nations face as sea levels rise. “You are concerned with saving your economy,” said Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga to Morrison. “I’m concerned about saving my people.” Fijian leader Frank Bainimarama later summarized the meeting as settling “for the status quo.”

Climate change is not affecting the world equally or at the same pace. And the forum’s failure to agree on stronger action was a pointed reminder that the countries most immediately endangered may not be able to count on others for a quick solution.

Increasingly, countries like Tonga and Tuvalu may consider going it alone by turning to geo-engineering – a “deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system” – that can require less international consensus.

The Pacific nation of Tuvalu faces the very real risk of sinking under the waves due to climate change.