Island Nations Plead for Their Lives as World Dawdles at Climate Talks

Thu Dec 9, 2010 2:57pm EST

Tuvalu wants to close emissions from a logging loophole; Micronesia wants to cut HFCs - super greenhouse gases - "to buy time"

By Stacy Feldman

Leaders of the world's tiny island states swamped already by rising seas from global warming have come to the Cancun climate talks to plead for their lives, they said on Wednesday night.

"We're talking about survival," said Marcus Stephen, president of Nauru and head of the group of 14 Pacific Small Island Developing States at the UN negotiations.

The scattered low-lying Pacific islands are most at risk of being wiped off the map from runaway climate change. Their heads of state have led the charge to give voice to island nations in the UN talks.

Nearly 200 countries are meeting in the Mexican resort to flesh out the building blocks of an international pact against global warming.

In Cancun last night, leaders of Nauru, Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati and Tuvalu said that seawater inundation, catastrophic typhoons and other extreme weather events are eroding their coastlines, sweeping their homes away and harming agriculture.

"Climate change for Samoa is not something that will happen in the future. We have already experienced destruction," said Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi of Samoa. "We need to move quickly, rather than spend too much time talking."

All five leaders blasted last year's controversial summit in Denmark that ended in the non-binding Copenhagen Accord that was cobbled together in the final hours.

"It fell well way short of [what is needed] to ensure the future survival of our countries," said Anote Tong, president of Kiribati.

Still, the island states are part of the 114 parties of the 193-nation UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that have formally associated with the accord.

Where's the Money?

Tong said they signed on only to get the $30 billion of "fast-start" finance that was agreed in the document.

The island states believed association by enough parties "would trigger the flow" of "the very generous funds made in Copenhagen," Tong said. "That has not happened."

So far, around $28 billion has been pledged publicly, though advocates claim much of the money is recycled aid, in violation of the accord. None of it has been dispensed.

Negotiators are in a logjam of indecision over a "green fund" that would funnel cash to countries to mitigate their emissions with clean energy technologies and to adapt to climate impacts.

Tong said his people can't wait for the delegates to decide.

Kiribati has already poured $2 million into helping a handful of villages to "live comfortably" and "feel secure" in the facing of rising sea levels, he said.  "Hundreds of millions" more are needed to maintain the integrity of the entire island, he added.

Island States 'Downgraded'

Tong called the Copenhagen result a "good wake up call" to island nations about countries' low ambition to wrap up a warming deal.

He expressed pessimism for a broad climate agreement in Cancun.

President Stephen of Nauru went further, saying there has been a "level of downgrading" against island nations in the Mexican talks.

One alleged incident made public by conservationists on Wednesday involves Tuvalu.

Australia was accused of bullying the island state for trying to close a "logging loophole" in forestry text being hammered out in the Kyoto Protocol track of negotiations.

The controversial rule would allow rich nations to boost logging without accounting for the greenhouse gases that result, in effect hiding a half a billion tons of emissions every year, advocates say.  Tuvaulu has put two alternatives on the table and has said it is determined to slam the loophole shut.

Cut HFCs to 'Buy Time'

While the world struggles to cut carbon dioxide,  Vice President Alik L. Alik of the Federated States of Micronesia urged nations to immediately phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a class of super greenhouse gases thousands of times more potent than CO2.

They can do so through the existing international treaty mechanism of the ozone-protection Montreal Protocol, he said.

Alik called it a "fast-action" agenda to "buy the time" island nations need.

Use of these gases is expected to mushroom in emerging economies. If left unchecked, they could be equivalent to as much as 45 percent of CO2 emissions in 2050, according to scientific research published by the National Academy of Sciences.

The Federated States of Micronesia introduced a proposal last year to cut 10 percent of baseline by 2030 in rich countries and 2036 in developing ones. So far, 90 nations have endorsed the action plan, Alik said.

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