Is­land na­tions say cli­mate talks fail­ure not an op­tion


Two of the world’s most vul­ner­a­ble low-ly­ing is­land na­tions, Kiri­bati and Tu­valu, have said fail­ure at up­com­ing cli­mate talks in Paris is not an op­tion as ris­ing sea lev­els threaten their very ex­is­tence.

The Pa­cific is­land na­tions say they have been forced to con­sider such nu­clear op­tions as buy­ing land abroad to grow food and pre­par­ing their peo­ple to mi­grate as the seas slowly claim their home­lands.

But as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Pa­cific is­land na­tions met in Jaipur in the western In­dian desert state of Ra­jasthan this week, the mes­sage was clear — world lead­ers meet­ing in Paris in De­cem­ber must de­liver on ex­pec­ta­tions of a his­toric deal to com­bat global warm­ing.

“Fail­ure is not a fall­back po­si­tion, it is not an op­tion, we can­not have it as an op­tion. We must get suc­cess,” Tu­valu Prime Min­is­ter Enele Sopoaga told AFP in an in­ter­view.

“We may be able to run away, we may be able to pur­chase land in other places, maybe Aus­tralia, New Zealand.

“But that won’t stop cli­mate change, it will not stop the cause of cli­mate change. It will not as­sure the peo­ple of Tu­valu that they will be safe there.”

Sopoaga said cli­mate change was now “en­emy num­ber one for Tu­valu,” nine coral atolls that are home to about 11,000 res­i­dents.

Sci­en­tists pre­dict Tu­valu and Kiri­bati, which are lit­tle more than a me­ter above sea level, could dis­ap­pear in the com­ing decades.

Both na­tions al­ready suf­fer from a range of prob­lems linked to cli­mate change, in­clud­ing more in­tense storms like the one that dev­as­tated Van­u­atu ear­lier this year and sali­na­tion of ground wa­ter, which makes it im­pos­si­ble to grow crops.

‘It’s too late’

The sit­u­a­tion is so dire that Kiri­bati is con­sid­er­ing re­lo­cat­ing the en­tire pop­u­la­tion, or build­ing man- made is­lands to re­house them.

“For us we think that things have pro­gressed, have ad­vanced too much, it’s too late for us,” Kiri­bati’s spe­cial en­voy Teekoa Luta told AFP in Jaipur, where rep­re­sen­ta­tives of 14 Pa­cific na­tions held talks on Fri­day.

“Paris we hope will buy us some time, but we are not pos­i­tive that any­thing that is achieved in Paris, the out­comes would be in time for us.”

The U.N. con­fer­ence in Paris will seek to crown a six-year ef­fort by 195 na­tions with a post-2020 pact on curb­ing green­house gases.

But Luta said her tiny na­tion of 100,000 peo­ple was al­ready strug­gling to cope with the fall-out from cli­mate change.

“Our re­sources are con­strained, our in­sti­tu­tional ca­pac­ity to cope with our health prob­lems are con­strained,” she said.

“We spend most of our bud­get fix­ing the (nat­u­ral) dam­ages month af­ter month and then we don’t have money to spend on health, ed­u­ca­tion and vices.”

Kiri­bati re­cently called for a global mora­to­rium on build­ing new coal mines and ex­pand­ing ex­ist­ing ones — a move Luta said she hoped that ma­jor economies in­clud­ing In­dia would even­tu­ally sup­port.

New Delhi has courted the Pa­cific is­land na­tions as it seeks to win back in­flu­ence in an area of the world in­creas­ingly dom­i­nated by re­gional ri­val China.

In a speech to del­e­gates on Fri­day, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi of­fered to il­lu­mi­nate thou­sands of Pa­cific is­land homes with so­lar power and high­lighted In­dia’s own plans to ramp up its re­new­able energy out­put to 175,000 megawatts by 2022.

But In­dia, the world’s third­largest con­trib­u­tor of green­house gases, has so far re­sisted com­mit­ting it­self to any ma­jor emis­sions cuts and Modi has bet big on coal, a key source of emis­sions.

Nonethe­less, Luta wel­comed In-


so­cial ser- dia’s “pos­i­tive” com­ments and said the coun­try of 1.2 bil­lion peo­ple had shown it was “com­mit­ted to take up the ac­tion, to walk the talk as they say.”

‘Crazy op­tions’

Luta said Kiri­bati is al­ready be­gin­ning to train its peo­ple with skills so that “in the event that they have to mi­grate, that they mi­grate with dig­nity and do not be­come a li­a­bil­ity to the re­ceiv­ing coun­try.”

The for­mer Bri­tish colony has also bought 2,000 hectares of land in Fiji to farm if salt-wa­ter pol­lu­tion means it can no longer pro­duce crops.

“We’re talk­ing about re­lo­ca­tion and there are ideas that maybe we should try mak­ing float­ing is­lands ... Peo­ple will some­times think that we’re crazy but I think we be­come des­per­ate at times, and there­fore have all these crazy op­tions,” Luta said.

Both na­tions said they were work­ing to counter ris­ing wa­ter lev­els by build­ing sea walls and plant­ing man­groves, but that only global co­op­er­a­tion in Paris could save them.

“We need to have this Paris agree­ment be­cause oth­er­wise there won’t be any sur­vival pro­cesses to save the peo­ple on these is­lands,” Sopoaga said.

“We do it now to­gether or we all fall.”


Samoa Prime Min­is­ter Tuilaepa Lu­peso­liai Sailele Maliel­e­gaoi ar­rives in a golf cart for the Fo­rum for In­dia-Pa­cific Is­land Coun­tries (FIPIC) Sum­mit in Jaipur, In­dia, Fri­day, Aug. 21.

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