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Honour Our Right to Exist, Say Pacific Island Leaders at COP21

Prime minister of Tuvalu and President of Kiribati - two of the most vulnerbale countires in the world addressing media at the COP21

PARIS, Dec 10 2015 (IPS) - On World Human Rights Day (December 10) at the UN climate conference in Paris, small island nations from the Pacific made a passionate call to the world leaders: stop climate change and honour our right to exist on the earth.

“We have been singing the same song for so many years: reduce carbon emission and global warming, because it threatens our existence,” said Enele Sosele Sopoaga, the prime minister of Tuvalu.

With a population of only 10,000 and land area of 26 square kilometers, Tuvalu is a tiny dot of a country in the Pacific Ocean. It is also one of the most climate-vulnerable countries, facing severe risks of sea level rise, ocean acidification, and increases in extreme weather. In 2014-15 alone the country was hit by 18 cyclones, including Cyclone Pam, which killed 16 people and caused damages worth 250 million dollars.

At the COP21, where the negotiation for a climate agreement is gaining momentum by the hour, the prime minister says that for his nation, climate change means a direct, existential threat. Sopoaga thinks a climate agreement in Paris that does not keep the global emissions below 1.5 degree Celsius and is weak on financial commitments would mean denial of his country’s right to exist.

“You have a right to live and so do we. So, to all the leaders I urge, ‘keep your commitment to a strong deal. Don’t blink now,’” he said.

The draft agreement, which is current being negotiated at Paris climate change conference, talks about vulnerable people like citizens of Tuvalu.

“Emphasizing the importance of Parties promoting, protecting and respecting all human rights,” reads the draft, “the right to health, and the rights of indigenous peoples, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and under occupation, and the right to development, in accordance with their obligations, as well as promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women, when taking action to address climate change.”

However, the entire paragraph is “within brackets.” This means it is open to debate and changes, including rephrasing and even deletion from the final agreement.

The vulnerable island countries are worried that when the final draft is produced, their rights may not be recognized.

“So far, I feel confident and energized with the way the negotiation has progressed. I hope this initiative (to include human rights and vulnerable people in the climate agreement), will continue,” says Anote Tong, president of Kiribati.

Located north of Tuvalu in the Pacific, Kiribati is another vulnerable country that has been looking to buy land in other countries to move part of its population who face total submergence as global warming increases and the sea level rises.

The total land area of the country is 811 square kilometers and the average elevation is less than two meters above sea level. The sea is rising at a rate of about 0.12 inches (3.1 millimeters) per year. So, besides erosion, sea-level rise, and contamination of freshwater by growing salinity, Kiribati also faces total submerge.

In fact, some of Kiribati’s 32 flat coral atolls – ring shaped islands made of coral reef – are already disappearing. So, while the main focus of the negotiators at the Paris climate conference is on areas like carbon emission and finance mechanisms, for his country, it is a question of whether they will survive as a nation, says Tong.

On Human Rights Day, the president of Kiribati thanked Fiji for offering to relocate 100,000 of his people, which will help them escape being drowned by the sea level rise. The relocation will be done over several years and the land required for that will be legally sold to Kiribati.

But, it is the COP21 where the real action can take place, says Tong.

“There are lots of works that need to be done,” says Tong. “The large countries still don’t get that it’s a matter of human survival for us. But they will have to come along,” says Tong.

One of the major disappointing outcomes of the climate conference so far has been the language of the draft on loss and damage, which is also in brackets (implying there is no consensus and convergence among parties to reach a compromise). There is no mention of liability and compensation by the developed countries towards others. And the most vulnerable countries, who never caused any global warming, are concerned that the agreement will not include a compensation scheme to help their citizens cope.

Experts are commenting that if the Paris conference finally passes an agreement that does not include liability and compensation, it could force some countries to use other means of seeking compensation, such as legal action against polluting corporations for the damages that have caused the damage they are having to endure.

“I have a feeling that it will happen. It maybe not bring a concrete result, but it will have a symbolic move of action for others. It is important to see that happening. At least start a conversation around it,” says Andrew Gage, a lawyer in West Coast Environmental Law, a Canadian-based organization that provides legal support to all those who protect and sustain the environment.

On Wednesday at the COP, Gage released the report Taking Climate Justice into our Own Hands, which he co-authored and which highlights the power of climate-impacted countries to decide legal action against climate polluters such as large-scale fossil fuel producers.

This report makes this legal argument for the first time which any country can try. It also proposes text for a model “Climate Compensation Act.”

Koomi Naidu, global head of Greenpeace, is also of the opinion that litigation will emerge as a more common tool for climate justice in the vulnerable countries in the future. It is already happening in the Philippines, says Naidu, where a number of organizations have joined hands

But when asked about this, the prime minister of Tuvalu said that litigation is not an option for his country: “No, Tuvalu will never do that. We will just sing the song louder,” he said.

Ioana Tupai, a local journalist from a village called Se’esee in the Upolu island of Samoa, agrees with Sopoaga: “I do hope there will be a binding agreement that will keep the emission below 1.5. If there is no agreement, then what’s the use of money for adaptation or mitigation?” she asked.

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  • bongorocks

    Humans have been dumping junk ,and all other kind off rubbish in the oceans for hundreds, if not thousands of years’.Many mining companies operating in many parts of the world including Papua New Guinea , have used deep ocean holes to dispose off their overburden. Humans has also reclaimed vast amount of lands from the ocean all around over the world .Also huge amount off toxins has been disposed off in the ocean over many decades .Every nuclear powered country has detonated numerous nuclear explosions tests in the ocean, leaving many parts off the ocean contaminated by radiation poison .
    If humans are able to remove all off those toxins ,and radiation contamination they polluted the ocean with , then the ocean would become a lot healthier.And if humans were able to remove from the ocean ,all off that junk they’ve dumped in the sea over many centuries then the sea levels would go down by at least one meter.
    But humans are not trying to remove any junk from the ocean at all,but instead they are now building Islands, airports, and wind farms, and many other projects out in the ocean . The ocean is now becoming an industrial site just like the land, and also space {.Yep humans even managed to pollute space with their junk in just a couple off decades. . }
    It makes me sick to hear the so called climate scientists claim that fossil fuels are the problem that is causing the sea levels to rise. when in fact their so called science has totally left out the real problems which are causing the ocean to react as it does out off their very poor and incompetent studies.
    So called climate scientists think that if they can destroy the coal industry then we will have blue skies and sunny days every day, and we will get the climate to send down the rain as requiered .
    That kind of scientific mind set reminds me off the day when the then president George W Bush said, that once he got rid off Saddam Hussein the Iraqi people will be dancing in the streets. But since Saddam is gone the Iraqi people are worse off than they’ve ever before under Saddam ,because now instead off the Iraqi people are dancing in the streets they are fleeing and crying with fear instead .
    And as the people in Iraq are not dancing in the streets , If the mad green groups are allowed to kill off the coal industry then the Australian economy will be totally destroyed in vain ,as the sea levels will continue to rise as long as the ocean engineering continue to advance and more and more land is reclaimed from the sea as humans continue to build their cities, and islands ,and wind farms out at sea.

  • bongorocks

    In WW11 alone,many thousands off ships and planes where destroyed and sunk to the bottom of the ocean along with their oils and toxins on board, leaving the ocean contaminated for many decades . If all off those ships and planes that where sunk during WW11 alone was ice bergs melting then there would be an outrage .Humans are still sinking ships today and even many spent car tyres so they can create artificial coral reefs. Although that seems like a good thing to do, they are still helping the sea levels to rise.
    Another problem that is being overlooked are those Vast numbers off huge massive ships ,and cargo carries that are sailing the oceans .Ocean traffic is so large and it is getting even larger and more heavier by the day is also contributing to sea levels rises. Just imaging if all off those problems that I’ve mentioned in these two comments where all gathered together in one area .Wouldn’t that make an awesome and massive Glacier that has melted into the sea?
    And I’m certain that if real and competent science was to be carried out by some real scientists’, {instead of these dodgy and incompetent lot who claim to be scientists}. to find out what the real problems are concerning planet earth ,that Fossil fuels will turn out to be the least off our worries.
    Incompetent professors such as Tim Flannery and Co LTD, are as good to Australia and to the rest off the world as the King- off-thorn-starfish is to the barrier reef.

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