Islands Under Threat

by on Monday, 14 May 2007 Comments
The world has worked hard in search of the common good of sustainability for peace and security. However, after thirty years of conferences and summits, the global environment continues to be threatened, it is evidently clear we cannot continue on the ‘business as usual’ approach to ensuring sustainability built on peace, security, development, human rights, and fundamental freedoms.

Clearly, we must scale up actions on implementation of adaptation and mitigation that are pragmatic, realistic and innovative beyond the mere conferential agreements and conventions. Three aspects are critical to scaling up actions on implementation for sustainability, namely political leadership, moral responsibility and universal cooperation.

The paper will be premised mainly on how these aspects are lacking in dealing with the challenges of climate change and sustainable development and the impact of these especially on those countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change such as the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). For SIDS like Tuvalu, the impacts of climate change and sea level rise due to global warming are already threatening the livelihoods, security and survival of the island people. They are already forcing some families to leave the islands to resettle elsewhere.

-Political Leadership and Moral Responsibility-
After 15 years of the UNFCCC work, and 4 IPCC TARs it is fair, in my view, to say we have within our knowledge solid science and information to allow us identify and move ahead with the technological options to adapt to the impacts, and also to mitigate or reverse climate change. The technological options for reducing GHG emissions through using more renewable energy sources and ‘greening’ economic growth and sustainable development have long been identified.

Despite all the advancement in our understanding we are still stuck with the problem of denial, and finger pointing between the industrialized and developing countries. In my view, the international community has to rise and move above this level of trust, and provide better global political leadership to commit to more renewable energy and green development. We need global leadership to create incentives to drive the economic and technological options that are well-known.

On the costs of adaptation there is clearly a moral responsibility for industrialized countries and all other countries to help the countries that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise, such as Tuvalu and other SIDS. As of now Tuvalu and other SIDS who have contributed little to global warming, but are already suffering from its impacts, have great difficulties in accessing funding for climate change due to the conditionalities of assessment reporting, climate-proofing, and co-financing to access these funding, particularly funding under the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). The Adaptation Fund under the Kyoto Protocol must provide a special window for SIDS for easy access to fund adaptation in countries.

Funding for adaptation to climate change is an obligatory responsibility under the UNFCCC. And there is clear moral responsibility for those who caused the problem in the first place to provide funding and technical support for adaptation work in these vulnerable island countries.

There is a need for an international SIDS Climate Change Trust Fund to help them cope with impacts, both to prepare against, and recover from the destructions of climate change. Should these countries be forced to leave their islands, a complexity of sovereign, cultural and fundamental human rights will need to be considered, and it’s the full moral responsibility of the polluters (industrialized world) to fund the evacuation and resettlement and sustenance of these island countries.

The claim is not self-serving. Tuvalu and SIDS may be the first to suffer, but the consequences of the world doing nothing now against climate change will be felt by ALL countries sometime down the lane.

-Lack of Universal Cooperation-
Articles 2 and 3 of the United Nations Charter call for the necessity of universal Cooperation:

"To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace."

"To achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion."

It is very clear that in our search for the common good, we in the United Nations have somewhat failed to honour the UN own Charter. First and in reference to sustainable development, the implementation of the Rio Conventions has been plagued by the lack of concrete recognition of the special vulnerabilities of SIDS like Tuvalu, and urgency to address them.

The lack of capacity for data collection and monitoring in SIDS, severely marginalized them in the negotiations process. SIDS need to build human and institutional capacity and financial insurance to cope with the impacts of climate change. By virtue of the lack of capacities, their fate is totally dictated by countries with the capacities who are also the main polluters.

There is a genuine need to establish a Pacific SIDS ‘centre of excellence’ on climate change to act as a think tank to help build the SIDS capacities to monitor and collect data on the impacts of climate, and advise on adaptation measures including the threatening issue of relocation. The world needs to diversify efforts to combat climate change, for universal cooperation.

Photo by C. Shen

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