Islands warn of extinction at UN climate week

As world leaders gather for key climate talks here, small island nations Monday warned they were running out of time with rising seas threatening to wipe them off the map.

Spread across the Earth’s oceans, the planet’s tiniest members grouped as part of the Alliance of Small Islands States (AOSIS) are hoping to make their voices heard 100 days before UN-hosted climate talks in Copenhagen.

Climate negotiators have spent the last two years working toward a make-or-break summit in Copenhagen this December, expected to ink new targets for global emissions beyond 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires.

AOSIS has dubbed itself the “moral voice of the negotiations” while the European Union prides itself on taking the lead, with member states agreeing to make 20 percent cuts in CO2 emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels.

EU leaders have said they are ready to commit to 30 percent cuts if the rest of the world does likewise to attain the overall goal of restricting global warming to two degrees Celsius.

But such a cut in rising temperatures is still too warm for many low-lying and island nations.

“Small island countries need to say that it is tantamount to declaring their extinction, because the consequences of going to a two degree Celsius increase are such that whole nations are to disappear,” UN climate negotiator Yvo de Boer told AFP.

Instead AOSIS is demanding that the new Copenhagen climate agreement limit temperature increases to as far below 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible, drumming home their mantra “1.5 to stay alive.”

The group’s president, Dessima Williams, who is also the permanent representative for Grenada to the United Nations, said last week: “More recent science shows that we are on track for a sea level rise of at least one and maybe two meters by the end of the century.

“That would spell disaster, even disappearance, for some of our islands.”

She said even just a 0.8 rise on the world thermometer was having dire consequences for island nations already witnessing severe coastal erosion, floods, dying coral reefs and extreme weather.

The alliance is urging industrialized nations to cut gas emissions by 2020 by 45 percent compared with 1990 levels.

“Sometimes in this debate like in many others you forget what is all about; people forget the main driver for ecosystem losses and for the disappearance of species is climate change,” de Boer told AFP Monday in an interview.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Monday joined other politicians and celebrities to formally launch New York climate week, which will Tuesday host a major UN climate summit he has convened.

Last week Ban pressed world leaders to publicly commit here on Tuesday to reaching a global climate change deal in Copenhagen.

“The current slow pace of the negotiations is a matter of deep concern,” Ban said. “We want world leaders to show they understand the gravity of climate risks, as well as the benefits of acting now.”

De Boer said he was eagerly awaiting what Chinese President Hu Jintao would have to say about climate change on Tuesday.

“I have very high expectations on what President Hu will be announcing in the UN tomorrow; it’s going to be ambitious,” he said.

He predicted that China could unveil policy measures that would make Beijing a “world leader in addressing climate change.”

The United States, which consumes 25 percent of the world’s energy and is the world’s biggest polluter, is also in the dock with many fearing Washington is too preoccupied with other problems to devote much time to battling global warming.

Climate negotiators from the world’s 17 largest developing and developed economies met in Washington on Thursday and Friday for talks described by the top US climate envoy as a “pretty full ventilation of views.”

“I think there was some narrowing of differences,” said Todd Stern, the US special envoy for climate change. But he acknowledged “there are plenty of differences that remain.”

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