December 3, 2008 / 11:55 AM / in 10 years

Island states seek tougher U.N. climate deal

POZNAN, Poland (Reuters) - A group of 43 small island states called on Wednesday for tougher goals for fighting global warming than those being considered at U.N. climate talks, saying that rising seas could wipe them off the map.

A Maldivian woman sits atop a section of a dyke built to protect the tiny island from the ravages of the sea during a sunrise in the Maldives capital Male in this July 12, 2001 file photo. REUTERS/Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi/Files

“We are not prepared to sign a suicide agreement that causes small island states to disappear,” Selwin Hart of Barbados, a coordinator of the alliance of small island states, told Reuters at the 187-nation meeting.

The December 1-12 talks in Poznan, Poland, are reviewing progress at the half-way stage of a two-year push for a new U.N. treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. The new treaty is meant to be agreed by the end of 2009 in Copenhagen.

The 43 nations, including low-lying coral atolls from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, said global warming should be limited to a maximum of 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, below a 2.0 C goal by the European Union.

Average temperatures rose by about 0.7 Celsius last century and many scientists say that even the EU goal, the toughest under wide consideration, may already be out of reach because of surging emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.

Hart said it was the first time that the alliance had set a common temperature goal. Rising temperatures and seas would damage corals, erode coasts, disrupt rainfall and spur more disease, they said.

Low-lying states such as Tuvalu and Kiribati say they risk being submerged by sea level rises, spurred by rising temperatures that could melt ice in Greenland and Antarctica. Warmer water also takes up more space than cold, raising levels.

“A 2 C increase compared to pre-industrial levels would have devastating consequences on small island developing states,” the nations said in a joint statement.

CORALS

“My country is really suffering,” said Amjad Abdulla of the Maldives. He said some people in the Maldives were already living in partly inundated homes.

Bernaditas Muller of the Philippines said a 2C rise would wipe out a third of the territory of her country. Rising seas would also swamp low-lying coasts from Bangladesh to Florida.

The small islands said their goal would mean that industrialized nations would have to cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and by more than 95 percent by 2050.

Such cuts are far deeper than under consideration by industrialized countries, facing additional problems in making new reductions because of the financial crisis.

The EU, for instance, is struggling to get approval for a plan to cuts of 20 percent below 1990 by 2020. U.S. President-elect Barack Obama aims to return U.S. emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 after a rise of 14 percent since 1990.

The U.N. Climate Panel said seas may rise by between 18 and 59 cms (7-24 inches) this century and that sea levels are likely to keep on rising for centuries.

But some scientists say that may be an under-estimate.

“It’s still likely that the average sea level will rise less than 1 meter by 2100 but higher figure cannot be excluded,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

He said that some studies indicated that seas could rise by up to about 1.55 meters by 2100 and 1.5-3.5 meters by 2300.

“If the Antarctic ice sheet melts down completely the global sea levels would rise by 57 meters (187 ft). For Greenland it’s 7 meters,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Megan Rowling and Gerard Wynn)

Editing by Matthew Jones

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