Wednesday, September 23, 2009

We are sinking, say Maldive islanders, but there is still time to save the world

The President of the Maldives, the Indian Ocean islands threatened with extinction by rising sea levels, told the United Nations climate-change summit yesterday that the country’s appeals for help had fallen on deaf ears for 20 years.

“Once or twice a year we are invited to attend an important climate change event such as this one — often as a keynote speaker,” Mohammed Nasheed told world leaders at the UN headquarters in New York.

“On cue, we stand here and tell you just how bad things are. We warn you that unless you act quickly and decisively, our homeland and others like it will disappear before the rising sea, before the end of this century.

“We in the Maldives desperately want to believe that one day our words will have an effect, and so we continue to shout them even though, deep down, we know that you are not really listening,” he said.

Mr Nasheed had again been invited to address a UN climate summit, in the approach to the Copenhagen conference this December at which world leaders hope to “seal the deal” on reducing gas emissions. His speech was sandwiched between those by the two leaders best equipped to save his island nation: President Hu of China and President Obama of the US, representing world’s No 1 and No 2 greenhouse gas emitters respectively.

But Mr Nasheed argued that developing nations must be ready to accept binding targets even if rich countries do not act. “We ask world leaders to discard those habits that have led to 20 years of complacency and broken promises on climate change, and instead seize the historic opportunity that sits at the end of the road to Copenhagen,” he said.

Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, said: “Success in Copenhagen will have positive ripple effects for global co-operation on trade, energy, security and health. Failure to reach broad agreement would be morally inexcusable, economically shortsighted and politically unwise.”

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that without counter-measures global temperatures would rise by up to 6.4C by 2100. The dangers include the disappearance of sea ice and more frequent cyclones, heat waves and heavy rains. Water would become scarce in semi-arid areas such as the western US, the Mediterranean Basin, Southern Africa and northeastern Brazil. The Greenland ice sheet might also disappear, leading to a seven metre (23ft) rise in sea level.

“The impacts would be disproportionately severe on some of the poorest communities of the world,” Mr Pachauri said. “At least 12 countries are likely to tend towards becoming failed states and communities in other states would show potential for serious conflict due to scarcity of food, water, stress and soil degradation.”

Mr Pachauri called for steps to ensure that global emissions peaked no later than 2015.

Among the most far-reaching pledges from developed nations, Japan’s new Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, to reduce the emissions to a level 25 per cent below the 1990 level by 2020; the previous Japanese Government’s target was 8 per cent. That move, combined with the Chinese offer to slow its emissions, and a recent offer by India to set numerical targets for cutting its greenhouse gas emissions, added to pressure on President Obama to act. too.

Al Gore, the former Vice-President, said that he hoped that the US Senate would pass climate change legislation by December, as the House of Representatives had done, so that Mr Obama would be able to make a firm offer.

However, activists criticised Mr Obama’s speech, in which he offered little except a recognition that the US had a duty to play a leading role.

Asad Rehman, of Friends of the Earth, said: “Barack Obama’s speech was deeply disappointing — it was a huge missed opportunity which does nothing to break the logjam in international climate negotiations.”

James Cameron, of Climate Change Capital, said of the Chinese initiative: “The Chinese move will help create the world’s largest market for the technology and the knowhow needed to combat climate change, which represents great business opportunities that have a public good at their core. China is moving rapidly to create the incentives for low-carbon investments.”

Gordon Brown arrived in New York last night and was seeking support from advanced nations to back a $100 billion fund to support developing nations as they switch to green technologies. Britain is committed to a European Union target to reduce its carbon emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020.

A British official described the proposal by President Hu of China as “definitely encouraging”.

“We obviously need to see numbers from China but we need to see numbers from everybody before December,” the official said.


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