World Powers Play Politics While Island Nations Drown

Portraits of climate refugees from the cyclone that hit Sunderbans are testimony to the unpredictability and dangers of global warming, which are already being felt in coastal India. They were intended to urge visiting U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, along with U.S. President Barack Obama, to take bold steps to stop global warming. © Greenpeace

UPDATE, Aug. 7: The 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum this week called for international help to protect vulnerable island states from rising sea levels and warmer temperatures.

The industrialized nations of the world are largely responsible for creating the climate crisis. But so far they’re playing politics instead of making real commitments to cut their greenhouse gas pollution. So it’s not surprising that small island states, which are facing almost certain doom, are discussing some drastic options for survival.

As reported on this blog in the past, these “drowning nations” are trying to cope with the looming climate crisis:

  • Mohamed Nasheed, president of the lowlying archipelago nation of Maldives, has announced that he intends his homeland to become the world’s first carbon-neutral nation. But given how small the country is, that will do very little to mitigate the problem. So Mr. Nasheed is also apparently prepared to move all of his countrymen to a new home – one that won’t be easily inundated by rising sea levels.
  • Indonesia sought and received a dismissal of some $30 million in debt that it owed to the US. In return, the government of the Southeast Asian archipelago nation has agreed to spend the money on protecting the rainforests of Sumatra, the sixth largest island in the world. Indonesia is the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter thanks to the incredible amount of deforestation that occurs there.
  • Tuvalu, the fourth smallest nation in the world, is already feeling the effects of global warming: the tiny archipelago nation has experienced much worse periodic high tides (called king tides) than normal in the past decade, causing increasingly destructive flooding. Tuvalu has vowed to totally remove fossil fuels from its energy mix by 2020, hoping to set an example that the world’s major greenhouse polluters will follow.

Prospects for a strong successor to the Kyoto Protocol emissions reductions agreement, set to expire in 2012, are looking grim. Opportunities for the world’s richest nations to make some preliminary agreements, like the Obama administration-sponsored Major Economies Forum, or the preliminary UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, have so far been squandered.

In July, the G8 group of industrialized nations failed to make real progress on agreements to slash greenhouse gas emissions. While proudly trumpeting their commitment to limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, they laid out absolutely no roadmap for how they plan to get there. (Afterwards, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as well as the chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, did not hesitate to criticize the G8 for their failure. )

In response, the leaders of seven tiny Pacific island nations recently renewed their call for the developed world to commit to greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and 85 percent by 2050. These are the targets many climate scientists say we must meet, if we’re to avert the worst effects of global warming.

While the leaders of developed nations seem to feel they have the luxury of ignoring the reality of the crisis and the best recommendations on how to avert its worst effects, developing nations are not so lucky.

Another round of UN talks in Bonn are about to begin. There’s little reason to think the developed world will get as serious about climate change as the developing world, but here’s hoping…

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