Small island nations’ survival threatened by climate change, UN hears

25 September 2008
Anote Tong, President of the Republic of Kiribati, addresses General Assembly

Small island developing nations, which contribute least to climate change but are under imminent threat of inundation due to rising sea levels, appealed to the United Nations today for immediate measures to be taken to ensure their survival.

The representatives of four Pacific island nations – Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Palau and Micronesia – called on delegates at the General Assembly’s annual high-level debate to translate words into action.

Although numerous global conferences on climate change have touted the need for adaptation and mitigation measures, they are not enough to help these countries, Kiribati’s President Anote Tong said, noting that his country has only several decades before its islands are uninhabitable.

Kiribati is not a major emitter of greenhouse gases, making mitigation measures on its part limited, and it lacks sufficient resources to build seawalls to protect private property, he said. Further, adaptation is impossible because the islands are too small and narrow, lacking higher ground for their inhabitants to seek refuge from rising waters.

Therefore, the country has had no choice but to formulate a “long-term merit-based relocation strategy,” given the possibility that all 100,000 people in Kiribati must one day move elsewhere.

“This strategy involves the upskilling of our people to make them competitive and marketable at international labour markets,” Mr. Tong said.

The leader of the Marshall Islands urged the UN to elevate the threat posed by the “nightmare” of climate change, noting the need by the world’s largest emitters to shift their moral, economic and political behaviour.

“If wars have been waged to protect the rights of people to live in freedom, and to safeguard their security, why will they not be waged to protect our right to survive from the onslaught of climate change?” President Litokwa Tomeing asked the delegates.

Micronesia’s leader emphasized the strong links between food security and climate change, with its farmlands existing barely a few metres above sea level.

“Already, many islands have experienced inundations of their taro patches and other food crops by saltwater, resulting in decreasing production and crop destruction,” President Emanuel Mori told the debate.

Vice President Elias Camsek Chin of Palau framed global warming as a security issue “which has gone unaddressed.”

Palau and other members of the Pacific Islands Forum will, as they did last year, submit a resolution to the Assembly asking the Security Council to consider the security implications of climate change.

“In the meantime, we cannot wait,” Mr. Chin said, adding that while contributing little to global warming, Palau continues to seek out ways to curb its reliance on fossil fuels.


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