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In 'Fiji-on-the-Rhine', islanders stress climate risks

BONN, Germany (Reuters) - Fiji has turned a tiny part of Germany into a tropical Pacific island as it leads global negotiations on climate change, securing a stage for islanders’ worries about rising sea levels.

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The first small island state to preside at U.N. climate negotiations since they began in the 1990s, Fiji has enlivened a conference centre with canoes, dancers, huge photographs of palm-fringed islands, virtual reality shows and flowers.

Some delegates at the 200-nation, Nov. 6-17 meeting dub the riverside venue “Fiji-on-the-Rhine”, a contrast to the grey November skies outside in Bonn, Germany. Fiji says “we are all in the same canoe” in confronting climate change.

Small island states have often felt overlooked by big powers even though they are on the frontlines of a rise in sea levels that is causing more storm surges, washes salt onto cropland and could swamp some low-lying coral islands.

Fiji’s chief negotiator Nazhat Shameem Khan told Reuters others should not underestimate small states.

“If you think you’re too small to make an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito,” she said, attributing the quote to Anita Roddick, the founder of the cosmetics firm The Body Shop.

Average sea levels have risen 26 cm (10 inches) since the late 19th century, driven partly by melting ice, according to the U.N. weather agency, and could rise by up to a metre this century as temperatures rise.

At the indoor Fijian pavilion in Bonn, delegates can also sample virtual reality glasses with 360 degree views showing young people re-building homes devastated by mudslides.

“We wanted to think ‘how do we bring Fiji to Germany?’” co-director Kvaku Aning said. “Short of being able to smell it, or feel the rain or the sun on you, this is the best thing.”

Many delegates say the Fijian approach makes an often abstract debate about greenhouse gas emissions more real. “It delivers a really stark message,” said Elina Bardram, head of the European Commission delegation.

The negotiations in Bonn, to write a rule book for the 2015 Paris climate agreement, have been overshadowed by what to do after President Donald Trump decided in June to withdraw the United States from the pact, instead preferring to promote coal and oil.

Khan said Fiji wanted to embed the hard-to-translate Fijian concept of ‘Bula’ into the negotiations. “It’s friendship, it’s inclusiveness, it’s happiness ... We’re seeing a lot of the ‘Bula’ spirit here.”

Editing by Janet Lawrence