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ENVIRONMENT: Act Now or Lose Forever, Climate Summit Told

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 22 2009 (IPS) - The world’s small island developing nations, most of which are threatened with environmental devastation, put the international community on dire notice: either accept ambitious and binding emission reduction targets, or humanity is doomed.

"Our acute vulnerability provides us with the clarity of vision to understand how the problem can be solved," Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed told leaders gathered at the Summit. Credit: Hasan Sarbakhshian/IPS

"Our acute vulnerability provides us with the clarity of vision to understand how the problem can be solved," Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed told leaders gathered at the Summit. Credit: Hasan Sarbakhshian/IPS

The one-day U.N. summit meeting of world leaders Tuesday came out with a clear message demanding urgent action against the growing threats from climate change.

Maldives, one of the world’s smallest nation states facing extinction, exposed the political hypocrisy of world leaders pontificating on the dangers of global warming but doing little or nothing towards a resolution of the ecological crisis at hand.

President Mohamed Nasheed, one of only 12 hand-picked speakers at the plenary of the summit, said that on cue the world’s vulnerable nations keep telling the world how bad things are.

“We warn you that unless you act quickly and decisively, our homeland and others like it will disappear beneath the rising sea before the end of this century. We ask you, what will become of us?” he said.

But in response, the assembled world leaders stand up, one by one, and rail against the injustice of it all, he added.

“We are with you,” they say, “We must act now before it is too late.”

But once the political rhetoric has settled and the delegates have drifted away to their home countries, “the sympathy fades, the indignation cools, and the world carries on as before.”

“A few months later, we come back and repeat the charade,” Nasheed told the gathering of world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Indian Ocean island of Maldives, with a population of about 400,000 people and a per capita income of about 4,400 dollars, relies on tourism for more than 60 percent of its foreign exchange earnings.

But the gradual sea level rise, caused by climate change, is threatening to wipe the country off the face of the earth – perhaps before the end of the century.

The summit has attracted over 100 heads of state or government and has been described as the largest single gathering of world leaders on climate change.

At a press conference on the sidelines of the summit, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, one of the world’s foremost environmentalists, said the statement made by the Maldivian president was “one of the most important statements” at the summit.

He said there should be common obligations that are binding on everyone – both developed and developing nations.

Nasheed said industrial nations must acknowledge their historic responsibility for global warming and accept ambitious and binding emission reduction targets consistent with an average temperature increase of below 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.

“If developed countries do act decisively, we in the developing world must be ready to jump, by accepting binding emission reduction targets under the principle of common but differentiated responsibility – providing that the rich world gives us the tools to do so, namely the technology and finance to help us reform our economic base and pursue carbon-neutral development.”

Apisai Ielemi, the prime minister of Tuvalu, a Pacific island nation also battling global warming, called for a new institutional framework that will provide finance and technical support for developing countries with significant emissions to leapfrog fossil fuel technologies and move quickly to renewable energy and energy efficient systems.

“A new financial arrangement such as renewable energy bonds should be developed to support efforts to deploy these new technologies,” he added.

“The future of my country, Tuvalu, is in your hands,” Ielemi added.

President Jose Ramos-Horta of Timor-Leste, a country with a population of over 1.1 million, said that while most nations will ultimately suffer the adverse impacts of climate change, some Pacific island nations are already grappling with dire and immediate impacts today.

“I am deeply distressed when listening on how people might have to resettle elsewhere as their islands submerge in the next decades, in our lifetime,” he said.

Ramos-Horta said his own country, a small island developing state, faces a severe threat from climate change.

“Our country is prone to floods, landslides and soil erosion resulting from a combination of heavy monsoon rain, steep topography, widespread destruction of forests and unstable agricultural practices like slash and burn,” he added.

He said rising sea levels pose a dire problem for coastal areas, including the country’s capital city Dili, which is only a few metres above sea level.

Speaking on behalf of the 43-member Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Prime Minister Tilam Thomas of Grenada warned that the cost of inaction or the cost of an inadequate level of ambition, far exceeds the cost of the course of action which guarantees the survival of major ecosystems, economies and people.

As stated many times before, he said, with temperature increases of 2 degrees Celsius, “Many of the economies of small island developing states and island ecosystems will virtually disappear.”

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