Fiji Time: 1:07 AM on Monday 22 December

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Action now: Pacific leaders

Saturday, December 15, 2007

THE lack of policy strength on green house gas emissions in Pacific island nations are a huge stumbling block in the effort to slow down the adverse effects of climate change.

While it is true that the summation of the regions emissions are almost negligible when compared to developed industrial nations like Australia, India, China and the United States of America, it is nevertheless an excuse to sit back.

Leaders of these island nations, including Fiji, instead believe that it is important for their countries to do their bit to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions before it can look beyond its noses,

Interim Environment Minister Bernadette Ganilau, who was at the United Nations climate change conference in Bali that ended yesterday, voiced her disenchantment with Fijis snail-pace implementation of practical measures to prevent or reduce activities that hurt the environment.

I just have an Act, that is just a whole lot of words, she had told an environment conference earlier this year.

I have no teeth at the moment.

If you came and dumped two million litres of oil right in front of my office which faces the harbour, I have nothing to come to you and say you have no right to do this.

Climate change has become a reality for many islands in the Pacific.

Many, including Fiji, have experienced the erratic weather patterns and the the submergence of low-lying coastal areas.

The Bali conference thus served as a last hope for small island nations like Tuvalu and Kiribati, who are the most vulnerable having already lost some of its atolls to rising sea levels, to secure real and reasonable commitments from international leaders whose countries are among the worst polluters (see graphics below)

On Thursday Mrs Rounds-Ganilau stood before leaders at the Bali conference and pleaded that they make the right choice_ a choice that would ensure a Fiji remains for the generations to come.

I have come here carrying the hopes of the people of Fiji, both present and those yet to come, that the global leaders will make decisions this week, that will ensure we still have an island home called "Fiji" by the turn of the century, she said.

To this end, she called on the forum to:

1. Agree to negotiate a Bali mandate for the second commitment period over the next two years, to end in 2009;

2. That immediate financial and technical reparation are implemented, and that;

3. Global Greenhouse Gas emissions need to peak now

The reality of climate change is that it is already happening and degrading our natural environments, she said.

Adaptation to climate change is the urgent priority for all Pacific Islanders.

Enhancing resilience and strengthening adaptative capacity are our adaptation priorities and international support is urgently needed to assist small island developing states.

We in the small island states have been studied, photographed, researched, poked and prodded and everything else, in the name of science, development and cooperation, but Mr President Sir we are slowly disappearing off the face of this planet, while all this is happening and we have had enough! she said.

She paid tribute to the tireless work conducted by non-government organisations who have been at the forefront of addressing climate change in Fiji.

Her last words were to call for bold leadership.

"Let us say enough of expectations and promises it is time to deliver! quoting pioneering Alliance of Small Independent States champion, Maldives President Maumoon Gayoom.

For those who do not understand climate change, experts explain that as global warming heats up the earth, glaciers and polar ice caps will melt and sea waters will rise.

According to some predictions, the oceans may rise by at least 18cm by 2100.

World sea levels rose 3.1 mm per year from 1993 to 2003, according to the the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The panel predicted that by the turn of the century, temperatures would have risen by up to 4 degrees centigrade and sea levels would have rose by up to 60 centimetres.

Thus for small island nations like Kiribati, the submergence of their land affects their ability to grow food and access to clean drinking water.

About 92,500 live on the 33 coral atolls of Kiribati, which are only about 2m above sea level.

For Tuvalu, if the sea-level is to rise as predicted by the panel, it would mean total demise.

The island is home to about 12,000 people.

Pacific leaders at the Bali conference emphasised the need for a stronger political will from the international community to do right by a region of people who had little to do with the environment phenomena that could destroy the world we know.

One must not forget though that it is not a battle though for Pacific island nations alone but for the 100,000 islands worldwide _ islands that are home to more than 600 million people.

Australias recent signing of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been a very promising signal for the regions island states.

The Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, is generally seen as an important first step towards a global emission reductions regime that will stabilise greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations at a level which will limit dangerous climate change.

Given the effects that island nations already have to grapple with, technical expertise and funds to help island nations adapt to the effects are essential.

Yesterday the European Union donated $20million to reduce the vulnerability to natural disasters and to build the resilience in eight Pacific Island Countries including Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Palau and Nauru.

The project is aimed at minimising the damaging effects of extreme weather events like floods, cyclones and droughts on these islands.

It is certainly a start but much more needs to be done.

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