Small islands urge deep CO2 cuts, fear rising seas

BONN, Germany (Reuters) - Small island states have sharpened their calls for the rich to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, saying low-lying atolls risk being washed off the map by rising ocean levels.

An alliance of 43 island states, backed by more than a dozen nations in Africa and Latin America, urged developed countries at U.N. climate talks in Bonn on Thursday to cut greenhouse emissions by “at least 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.”

“The scientific findings about climate change are frightening,” M.J. Mace, a legal advisor to the Federated States of Micronesia who presented the demands at the March 29-April 8 meeting, told Reuters.

A group of leading researchers last month projected a quickening pace of sea level rise this century, of about a meter (3 feet) or roughly double the projections by the U.N. Climate Panel in 2007.

The small islands had called at a U.N. climate meeting in Poznan, Poland, in December 2008 for cuts of “more than 40 percent” in industrialized nations’ emissions by 2020.

“Why would small island states be happy with a level of ambition that is going to destroy their countries?” Mace said. The highest points of some Pacific, Caribbean or Indian Ocean states are only a few meters above sea level.

Many other nations, including China and India, have called at Bonn for at least 40 percent cuts by the rich. Small islands range from Antigua to Vanuatu while other countries backing Thursday’s call included Kenya, Tanzania, Argentina and Peru.

The cuts are far beyond goals set by developed nations, in a widening stand-off about how to split up the burden of fighting global warming amid a global economic slowdown under a new U.N. pact meant to be agreed at a meeting in Copenhagen in December.


U.S. President Barack Obama plans to cut U.S. emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020, a cut of between 16 and 17 percent from current levels. The European Union has agreed cuts of 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and of 30 percent if other developed nations followed suit.

The U.N. Climate Panel has said that developed nations would have to cut emissions by between 25 and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to avoid the worst of climate change such as floods, droughts, melting glaciers and heatwaves.

“We found the 25 to 40 range to be insufficient,” Mace said, adding that it left open a risk of dangerous temperature rises.

Mace said that the alliance also wanted the rich to promise to cut emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, by at least 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern told the meeting on Sunday that far U.S. deeper cuts than Obama plans would be “unrealistic.” He said that Washington should be guided by pragmatism, as well as by climate science.

“We have heard the words realistic and pragmatic here,” Mace said. “Let’s look at it the other way around: what’s realistic and pragmatic for these small island countries?”

Editing by Matthew Jones