Islands fear 'planet Pompeii'

2009-12-10 20:11

Copenhagen - More than half the countries at 192-nation UN climate talks in Copenhagen back far tougher goals for limiting global warming than those favoured by rich nations, a group of small island states said on Monday.

The group, which says rising sea levels could wipe them off the map, complained that a 5m globe hanging in the Copenhagen conference centre omits many island states such as in the Pacific or the Indian Ocean.

Dessima Williams, head of the 43-member Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis), said more than 100 nations had signed up for a goal of limiting rises in temperatures to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels, up from 86 in August.

"Half of the UN is calling for ambitious and specific targets," Williams, of Grenada, told a news conference at the meeting among 192 nations trying to work out a new treaty to succeed the UN's Kyoto Protocol.

The least developed nations, mostly in Africa, and small island states all support the 1.5ºC goal that would require cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by rich nations of at least 45% from 1990 levels by 2020.

Any deal in Copenhagen will have to be agreed by unanimity. The depth of greenhouse gas cuts by the rich and the amount of funds on offer to help the poor are among major obstacles to a deal in Copenhagen.

'2ºC maximum limit'

Most developed nations and leading emerging economies, led by China and India, back a goal of limiting warming to a maximum 2ºC over pre-industrial times. Temperatures have already risen by 0.7ºC and are set to rise further.

"We are living on the front lines of climate change," Williams said, adding that Aosis wanted a legally binding treaty from Copenhagen rather than a mere political declaration favoured by many developed nations.

Even with current warming, she said many islands were suffering "significant damage, some are going under the sea, some are losing their fresh water supply." Some coral reefs were getting damaged by rising temperatures.

She dismissed suggestions of splits between the developing nations' group amid a dispute over a proposal by the Pacific Island state of Tuvalu for strong, legally binding pacts from Copenhagen for all nations.

She said Aosis members supported Tuvalu in principle but were still working out a common front. China and India favour legally binding cuts in greenhouse gases for rich nations in the Kyoto Protocol but less stringent obligations on the poor.

"A fine sounding political declaration from Copenhagen without a legally binding outcome is like a shark without teeth," said Barry Coates, a spokesperson for Oxfam.

Antonio Lima, of Cape Verde, the vice chair of Aosis, said climate change was a looming disaster for the poor - like the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius 2 000 years ago that buried the Roman city of Pompeii.

"They did not know what they were facing. Now we know what is going to happen. It will be the planet Pompeii," he said.

Read more on:    oxfam  |  climate change  |  cop15  |  kyoto protocol
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