OSLO Sea level rise is the "most terrifying" impact of climate change and rich countries are showing scant leadership in addressing the threats, the incoming chair of a U.N. alliance of small island states said on Tuesday.
Marlene Moses, the U.N. ambassador of the Pacific island state of Nauru, the world's smallest republic, urged developed countries to do far more to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and to provide climate aid to developing states.
Nauru was chosen on Tuesday to take over from Grenada in late 2011 as chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a 43-member group whose members from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean are especially at risk from rising seas.
"It's the most terrifying of all climate change impacts," Moses told Reuters in a telephone interview. "I once said that climate change is as big a threat to security as an invading army. Sea level rise will force people to relocate."
She faulted rich nations for failing to do enough.
"We are really waiting for a leader to emerge from the developed world," she said. "We are going through not only a climate crisis but also a leadership crisis. This is holding up the multilateral process."
She said Nauru's 10,000 people, living on a rocky island of 21 sq kms (8 sq miles) in the western Pacific, were primarily at risk from disruptions to water supplies, erosion and damage to the ocean exacerbated by climate change.
"But for low-lying atolls -- the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, sea level rise is really a threat. Relocation is a threat. It is imminent," she said of the risks that states could be swamped by rising seas.
She said many scientific projections were for sea level rise of a meter (3 ft) or more by 2100.
Sea levels rose about 17 cms in the 20th century and the U.N. panel of climate scientists said in 2007 they could rise this century by between 18 and 59 cms, before accounting for risks of a faster thaw of Antarctica or Greenland.
Priorities for AOSIS under Nauru's three-year chairmanship would be an extension of the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, the U.N. plan which obliges almost 40 developed nations to cut emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels from 2008 to 2012.
Japan, Russia and Canada have said they will not sign up for an extension of Kyoto, arguing that all big emitters including China and India have instead to agree to a new U.N. pact beyond 2012. Developing nations have no binding targets under Kyoto.
Nauru would also push for more climate finance from developed nations, which have set a goal of providing at least $100 billion a year from 2020 to help the poor limit their emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
"Things are not moving as fast as we want them to," she said of climate finance. Nauru itself has not received any cash under so-called "fast-start" funds of almost $30 billion for 2010-12, she said.
AOSIS under Nauru's leadership would also urge the rich to make deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than planned. Among other AOSIS priorities are for the U.N. negotiations to develop new insurance mechanisms to help protect vulnerable nations.
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)