Islanders Plead at Climate Talks

Islanders Plead at Climate Talks to Be Saved From Rising Seas
Island countries from Grenada in the Caribbean to the Maldives in the Indian
Ocean are telling delegates at the United Nations climate-change talks this
week that their lands may be swamped by rising seas and more powerful storms
unless global warming is curbed.

Warmer temperatures are melting icecaps, expanding the volume of oceans and
sending more intense hurricanes toward Grenada. Higher tides in the Tuvalu
islands between Hawaii and Australia have started making groundwater too
salty to drink for its 12,000 residents. The Maldives may buy land elsewhere
and move all its islanders should rising waters engulf their land.

“We are already in danger — it’s not that we Maldivians ever want to leave,”
Amjad Abdulla, director-general of the nation’s environment ministry, said in
an interview at the UN global-warming talks in Poznan, Poland. Relocation
plans for the 300,000 residents from the low-lying atolls south of India
are being drawn up for “a worst-case scenario.”

Delegates at Poznan are negotiating a “shared vision” to open the way
for a new global-warming treaty to be signed a year from now in
Copenhagen. Island-state envoys say they fear an agreement struck
before talks wrap up on Dec. 12 won’t ensure their survival, or be backed
by pledges from industrialized nations that release the most heat-trapping
greenhouse gases.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year predicted
sea levels will rise 18 to 59 centimeters (7 inches to two feet) by 2100,
having risen 17 centimeters during the last century. The Maldives’s highest
point is about 10 feet above sea level. The panel also said tropical
cyclones are likely to increase in intensity as temperatures warm.

2 Degrees Too Much

The 27-member European Union has proposed curbing global warming to
2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre- industrial times.

A 2-degree limit won’t guarantee the future of the lowest- lying nations,
said Leon Charles, a Grenadian delegate. “Two degrees is really not a safe
level for small island states,” Charles said. “For many of them it would be like
a death sentence in the long run.”

The EU, the biggest group of nations that already accepted binding emissions
limits under the Kyoto treaty, also asks the developed world to cut them 20
percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.

The “shared vision” blueprint won’t likely include precise numbers on
reductions by 2020, U.S. delegate Harlan Watson said at Poznan, which
lies halfway between Berlin and Warsaw.

A 2-degree goal is “suicide” for islands that rise little above sea level, Selwin
Hart, a spokesman from Barbados for the Alliance of Small Island States,
told delegates on Dec. 2.

‘Our Extinction’

The 43-member Alliance of Small Islands group wants a 1.5- degree limit, and
“agreeing to a goal that results in our extinction is not something we’re prepared
to do,” Hart said.

A temperature gain of 2 degrees would kill off up to 85 percent of corals,
raise sea levels, increase tropical diseases and intensify storms further, said
Charles, climate-change adviser to Grenada’s finance ministry.

Ocean water expands when it’s warmer, occupying more volume as
temperatures rise. The seas also have risen as the Greenland and Arctic ice
sheets melt.

The UN climate panel also said temperatures have risen by 0.76 degrees since
the 19th century and further gains of 1-2 degrees would result in the bleaching
of most corals, a process that makes them more vulnerable to dying off.

“We’re living on coral reefs: The economy is fisheries and tourism and the
coral reefs are the natural barriers from sea- level rise and storm surges,”
bdulla of the Maldives said. “If the coral reefs go, it means the death of a

As studies are carried out and the evidence stacks up that the small
islands are in danger, politicians in richer nations may begin to change their
stance, said Stephanie Tunmore, climate campaigner for the environmental
group Greenpeace, in Poznan.

“The 2-degree target a few years ago was an incredibly radical position. It’s
much more widely accepted now” and even 1.5 degrees may be endorsed, she
said. “It’s very, very hard for them to say ‘we know this island and this island
and these people will be obliterated.’ It becomes a moral imperative to act.”

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