Small island nations urge rich to limit warming

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Small island states that could face devastating storms and floods from climate change urged on Monday that global temperature increases be sharply curtailed from goals set recently by industrialized countries.

General view of a swimming pool at Olhuveli island in Maldives February 15, 2009 . REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Leaders of the Alliance of Small Island States, or AOSIS, a group of 42 island countries, said the rest of the world should agree to agree to cut emissions at a U.N. meeting later this year to limit temperature increases well below 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels.

Temperatures have already risen about 0.8 degree C from pre-industrial times.

“We see climate change as ... a threat to our survival and we have to take the necessary steps to protect our territories, Tillman Thomas, prime minister of AOSIS-member Grenada, told reporters on Monday.

Failure by rich countries to act would be tantamount to a kind of “benign genocide,” Thomas said.

The small island nations of AOSIS, which include the Maldives, Tuvalu and Papua New Guinea, are some of the most vulnerable countries to flooding from rising seas as ice melts from global warming. They are also among the least responsible for emissions blamed for warming the planet.

The G8 countries and a 17-country group of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, the Major Economies Forum, agreed in Italy months ago that global average temperatures should not be allowed to rise more than 2 degrees C (3.6 F) over pre-industrial times.

AOSIS met before a one-day summit at the United Nations where world leaders aim to try to unlock 190-nation negotiations on a new deal to combat global warming due to be hammered out in Copenhagen in December.

Negotiations are stalled over how to share the burden of curbs on emissions between rich and poor countries and how to raise billions to help the poor combat changes such as rising seas and desertification.

AOSIS also urged that a new U.N. deal on climate include a comprehensive insurance program to address, for example, loss and damage to coastal hotels and other infrastructure from rising seas and stronger hurricanes, and loss of coral reefs from ocean acidification related to global warming.

The group also called for new sources of grant-based financing to help the states adapt to changes of global warming.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that temperatures will rise between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees C (2 and 11.5 degrees F) during the 21st century, depending on policies chosen by governments.

“We know it’s a battle, but we have to be realistic,” Tillman said about getting the rich countries to agree. “We are already being threatened at this stage, so for us, 1.5 degrees (C) is a compromise.”

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Peter Cooney