PACIFIC ISLAND STATES DEMAND IMMEDIATE ACTION
International Herald Tribune August 16, 2001
Internet: http://www.iht.com/articles/29464.htm KOLONIA Federated States of Micronesia -
Leo A. Falcam Thursday, August 16, 2001
Climate change is hurting islands around the world, but for the people of the Pacific it is nothing less than slow death. Our tragedies provide an early warning to the global community of its own impending doom. What is happening to us stands as clear reason why the countries of the world, primarily the industrialized nations, must take significant steps now to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. The consequences of climate change for Pacific islands include rising sea levels, destruction of our freshwater sources, more intense storms, loss of crops to seawater, and coastal erosion. . These changes are already having devastating effects on Tuvalu, whose 10,000 people live on nine low-lying atolls. Scientists predict that rising waters will totally swallow them within 50 years. Already the Tuvalu government has asked New Zealand and Australia to accept the entire population as environmental refugees. My country, the Federated States of Micronesia, has many small islands that are also threatened with extinction.
Last month in Tokyo, the U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell called global warming a security "challenge," but it is far more. It is a doomsday threat of utmost urgency. The loss of thousands of years of island cultures might be tolerated by the world at large, and tens of millions of island peoples might be relocated, with great difficulty and human suffering. But the rest of the planet also faces devastating consequences. . Our early experience with the real consequences of global warming, as island leaders have been emphasizing for the last decade, should be the canary in the coal mine. This warning will be wasted if significant steps are not taken now, primarily by all industrialized nations, to cut back emissions of greenhouse gases. The climate change that threatens the existence of Pacific islands was not of their making. They contribute an infinitesimal amount of the carbon dioxide and other gases that are making the world warmer. There is very little that they can do to prevent further loss. . Pacific island leaders have joined together on this issue at various global and regional organizations, such as the 44-nation Alliance of Small Island States and the Pacific Islands Forum, which is meeting this week in Nauru. This collective voice has accomplished much in the various United Nations negotiations on climate change. But only the major industrialized nations possess the capacity to reverse the course of global warming. . Seldom, if ever, has a global scientific consensus emerged on such a vital and complex subject in so short a time. Ten years ago, uncertain science forced the world to rely on the precautionary principle in calling for reductions of greenhouse gases. Today the call is based on clear evidence.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change assigned "common but differentiated responsibilities" to all countries in confronting climate change. It stipulates that developed nations, having caused this situation, must take the lead in reversing it. The Kyoto Protocol, which calls on industrialized nations to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of approximately 6 percent below 1990 levels, is nothing more than a protocol to the overarching UN convention. It was never seen as a solution to the problem of climate change but was to be instead a vital first step. . Naturally, adverse economic consequences must be minimized as much as possible, but it is equally important to initiate substantial measures without further delay. The United States is refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Yet it assumed bold leadership when it declared AIDS to be a global security threat. Now we look once more to the great nations of the world to accept the leadership responsibilities assigned to them in the Climate Change Convention.
The writer is president of the Federated States of Micronesia and chairman of the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders based at the East-West Center in Honolulu. He contributed this to the International Herald Tribune.