SMALL ISLANDS LOOK TO THE HAGUE FOR HOPE REGARDING GLOBAL WARMING
The Hague, Netherlands (November 18, 2000 - AP-SIDSnet/PINA Nius Online)---The omens for small island nations are in their own watery backyards: Towering tidal waves. Vanishing atolls. Crumbling reefs, the world's biggest news agency has reported from The Hague.
To representatives of 39 small island nations, from Cape Verde to Tonga and Tuvalu, predictions that global warming will wreak environmental havoc are not mere theories for scientific debate, the Associated Press news agency said in a special report.
As environmental changes threaten their lands, they have come to press their increasingly desperate case at a United Nations conference on climate change, it said.
"These are serious issues of economics and livelihood - issues that can disrupt the social fabric of countries,'' Leonard Nurse, Director of Barbados' Coastal Zone Management Unit, was quoted as saying.
Nurse is one of some 6,000 delegates from more than 180 countries in The Hague for the sixth U.N. climate conference. The two-week meeting is aimed at reaching commitments to stem the warming trend, believed to be caused by heat-trapping emissions from industrial pollution and car exhaust.
The island nations represented here banded together 10 years ago in AOSIS, the Alliance of Small Island States, hoping to counteract the clout of industrialized countries. They reject proposals by the United States and European countries, which want to meet emissions-reduction targets by financing ecological projects in developing countries instead of cutting their own output.
"Whoever caused the problem has to clear up the problem,'' Yumie Crisostomo of the Marshall Islands was quoted by Associated Press as saying. She and others dismissed suggestions that island nations should adapt to changing conditions by building surge barriers and storm drains.
A U.N. panel of 2,000 scientists predicts temperatures will increase by as much as 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 100 years, raising sea levels by up to 31 inches.
Already, the effects are being felt.
In the Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago, several atolls have become permanently inundated, even at low tide. Officials blame global warming, noting that there is no oil drilling in the area and geological sinkage has been ruled out.
"We can find no other reason to point to,'' Nurse said.
Islands are at particular risk because common sources of livelihood - often tourism and agriculture - are clustered along the vulnerable coasts. Changes in water temperature can erode coral reefs, and rising seas threaten freshwater supplies.
"In Barbados, some of the coastal wells are showing increasing levels of salinity,'' Nurse said. "Barbados is already one of the most water-scarce countries in the world.''
Rising waters have also swamped islets in the Pacific nations of Kiribati and Tuvalu, destroying roads and bridges and washing away traditional burial sites.
The threat is not only from rising water levels. Cyclones, hurricanes, droughts and other natural disasters are also believed to be associated with climate change.
For many islands, the potential effects are compounded by scarce resources.
Niue is an economically struggling flyspeck island in the South Pacific whose population of 1,800 is a third of what it was in the 1970s, in part because young people have moved away. A 1990 cyclone sent 100-foot waves crashing over the coastal cliffs and wiped away homes on the shore, according to David Poihega of the island's meteorological service.
"If we have another extreme event or a prolonged drought, it could displace all of us,'' he said. "We are an endangered species.''
In other conference developments reported by Associated Press:
* The European Union rejected a proposal from the United States, Japan and Canada on a method to cut levels of greenhouse gases.
The U.S.-led plan, which environmental groups also harshly rejected, suggests using so-called carbon "sinks" -- forests and lands that absorb carbon dioxide pollution -- to help meet targets of carbon dioxide reduction agreed to under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
The 15-nation European Union said it opposes the proposal because it "does not ensure the environmental integrity of the Kyoto Protocol."
The rejection set the stage for a tough battle when environment ministers arrive this week at the conference. They are expected to agree to concrete measures to combat global warming.
Another point of contention that will face government ministers in the second week of talks is the issue of emission credit trading, whereby rich nations would be able to purchase emissions credits from less polluting countries.
See: SIDSnet reports at http://www.sidsnet.org/
See: Greenpeace reports at http://www.greenpeace.org
Pacific Islands News Association (PINA)