Monday, December 07, 2009

Small Islands Challenge the Consensus at Copenhagen

The Conference of the Parties, of COP as it is known, is now in session in Copenhagen. Already, signs of discord are emerging in this fifteenth COP since climate negotiations began.

The head of the Grenadan delegation, Dessima Williams, said the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) would "consider their options" if a legally-binding deal did not materialise here”. They are referring to the fact that the forty three countries which comprise the AOSIS would find it difficult to sign an agreement that did not commit to firm action to keep the rise in global temperatures to or below 1.50C by the end of the century. Their argument is simple – any global temperature above this is a death knell for many of the AOSIS states. They would simply sink as water levels rise or becoming unsustainable due to the impact warming would have on their economies.

AOSIS is not alone in making this demand. They are supported by the Group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) – a total of some 80 countries – in demanding that global temperature increases be kept as far below 1.5°C as possible to limit the anticipated devastating effects of climate change on the world's most vulnerable countries, including some large African states.

None of the developed or developing nations are really talking about the 1.5°C temperature, since their commitments are to no more than a 20C rise by 2100. While the difference of 0.50C may seem small to many of us, but to many of the people on the islands who see themselves as vulnerable, such as the Maldives or Taveuni, the difference is very significant. In most Pacific islands, the people, agricultural land, tourist resorts and infrastructure (including roads and airports) are concentrated in the coastal zones, and are thus especially vulnerable to any rise in sea level. Some suggest that sea levels could rise by some six to eight feet over the next fifty years. Other scientists, include many who have taken detailed measurements around these islands over many years, dispute this and point to the fact that there has been no significant sea level rise around the Maldives for thirty years.

For most developed countries, the challenge of climate change is one of adjustment. For small islands, it is one of survival. With these countries demanding that tougher standard be applied than has hitherto been on the table, it is not a great start to a very complex negotiation process.

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