Ahead of Copenhagen talks, small island nations sound alarm at UN on climate change

25 September 2009
Winston Baldwin Spencer, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda

The success of the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen later this year will best be measured by how well any final deal protects small island States, the countries that are most vulnerable to global warming, their leaders told the General Assembly’s high-level debate today.

The leaders of archipelagos in the South Pacific, the Caribbean and off the coast of Africa warned that the countries’ very existence may be at stake if urgent measures are not introduced to slash greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to rising global temperatures.

“We wait with bated breaths and hope that humanity will show itself worthy of this planet and that nations will have the political will and integrity of leadership to solve the most confounding challenge of our era,” said Baldwin Spencer, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda.

Mr. Spencer told the third day of the annual General Debate that small island countries are profoundly disappointed by the lack of action to protect these countries and their peoples, culture, land and ecosystems, given their extreme vulnerability.

Earlier this week Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened a climate change summit that brought together dozens of heads of State and government to try to build momentum ahead of the negotiations in December in the Danish capital, where the world’s nations will try to agree on a pact to reduce emissions when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012.

Emanuel Mori, President of the Federated States of Micronesia, said Mr. Ban’s summit had brought more attention to the issue at a critical time before Copenhagen, but he warned that time is already running out.

“What if the meltings from the polar ice sheets and glaciers reach their irreversible tipping point?” Mr. Mori asked. “The outcome is crystal clear: Micronesia and all low-lying islands will disappear. But the effects will go much further, endangering coastal cities and communities all over the world, including Manhattan.”

Mr. Mori urged the introduction, through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), of a series of rapid mitigation strategies to try to lessen the impact as soon as possible.

Dominica’s President Nicholas Liverpool called on other countries to allow the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) to have a greater say at the negotiating table on climate change given they are on the frontline.

“We are contributing to a solution to the effects of climate change by pursuing measures at the national level to promote energy efficiency, reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, and to develop our geothermal potential for national energy needs, as well as for possible export of clean energy to our neighbours,” he said.

Anote Tong, President of Kiribati, described climate change as the greatest moral challenge of the era.

“We simply cannot afford the consequences of inaction. The people of my country are already feeling the impacts of climate change, which will only worsen with time.”

Mr. Tong said the situation was already so dire that Kiribati had to be pragmatic about adaptation strategies for its people.

“It is our overwhelming desire to maintain our homeland and our sovereignty. However, with the inevitable decline in the ability of our islands to support life, let alone increasing populations, due to rising sea levels, we must also provide opportunities for those of our people who wish to migrate to do so on merit and with dignity.”

Speaking yesterday, Sao Tome and Principe’s President Fradique de Menezes warned that rising sea levels as a result of climate change were already causing serious coastal erosion in his country.

“Time is no longer on our side, but has become our unforgiving judge,” he said. “There is no time for unfounded justifications justifying non-fulfilment of the Kyoto Protocol. We cannot continue evading these essential environmental issues that are not a question of developing countries against developed ones. We need urgent measures which are global and concrete to save us from this crisis.”

Marshall Islands’ President Litokwa Tomeing called on the wealthiest nations to “consider the implicit moral obligation that comes with their privileged and affluent status” and to agree to measures that may disturb some of the benefits that come with living in wealthy, industrialized societies.

“We appeal to you to be as unrestrained as the wind and set the limit of increase in global average temperature beyond pre-industrial period at a level to ensure our survival,” Mr. Tomeing said.

“We appeal to you to be fair-minded and to act with determination to reduce global emissions by at least 85 per cent by 2050 from 1990 levels. We appeal to you to ensure that global emissions peak no later than 2015.”

In his address to the Assembly today, Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Edward Natapei underscored the security implications wrought by climate change.

Global warming, he told the Assembly, is already “affecting the livelihoods of our people as the international community struggles to come to terms with the idea that climate change poses a real threat to the future survival of mankind.”

Fredrick Fono, Deputy Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, proposed that mitigation measures against climate change should include the rehabilitation of forests, given that deforestation contributes to about 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

“My country is currently carrying out an inventory of its forests and intends to participate in the carbon market,” Mr. Fono said. “We also hope multilateral financial mechanisms will become available to the most vulnerable in ensuring appropriate technology transfer in renewable energy receives the attention it deserves.”


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