Island nations are the least responsible for climate change but will bear the brunt of its ill effects, Australia’s leader said yesterday, as a group of small Pacific states called for a 45 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
The seven smallest island nations in the Pacific Islands Forum said deep cuts in emissions were vital as they seek to protect their low-lying countries from rising sea levels, which are eating away coastlines, polluting freshwater sources and killing fruit-bearing trees and plants.
Leaders of the countries — which are members of the 16-nation forum meeting this week in Cairns, Australia — expressed concern at the “serious and growing threat posed by climate change to the economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being and security” of their populations.
Many scientists agree that carbon dioxide and other harmful gases are warming the planet and melting ice caps, gradually raising sea levels. Those that are pressing for a dramatic reduction in these gases include Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu — all of which have coral atolls no more than 3m above sea level and are among the most vulnerable to rising waters. The Cook Islands, Nauru, Niue and Palau also joined the call.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in a speech to open the forum’s annual leaders’ summit, said climate change was “the great challenge of our time.”
“The nations of the Pacific are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and Pacific island nations are among the least responsible for the causes of climate change,” he told delegates. “But they will bear the brunt of its impact the most.”
Speaking alongside Climate Change Minister Penny Wong and Vanuatu Prime Minister Edward Natapei, Rudd said climate change could lead to storm surges, flooding and erosion, which could have severe economic impacts in sectors like agriculture, fishing and tourism.
He called for concerted action from world leaders to commit to aggressively cutting carbon emissions at the international conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December.
He pledged that Australia would argue forcefully for such cuts at the conference on behalf of the Pacific region — “including some of the most vulnerable states in the world.”
In preparation for the summit in Denmark, the seven small countries adopted on Tuesday the position of the global Association of Small Islands States that asks developed nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2020 and 85 percent by 2050, said Toke Talagi, premier of the micro state of Niue.
“The small island states have agreed we must make a very strong stance with respect to the greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
Countries in the group were the most vulnerable to global warming but had little leverage in the global debate because they wield little or no diplomatic or economic clout, he added.
The small states also urged large countries to allocate more aid to help them prepare for inundation.
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