Few Listen As Tuvalu Fears Destruction From
By Ravi Nessman
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (August 28, 2002 - Associated Press)---The
tiny island nation of Tuvalu sees the issue of global warming as a
matter of life and death. Few at the U.N. development summit seem to
The United States does not want the gathering to commit to specific
pollution controls. The world's developing nations — many of them major
oil producers — have little interest in helping a nation of 12,000
people that fears it will be crushed by storms, rising ocean levels and
disruptions to marine life.
"If this issue of climate change is ignored, what will happen to
Tuvalu?" asked Paani Laupepa, Tuvalu's assistant secretary of the
Tuvalu comprises nine low-lying coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean
between Australia and Hawai‘i whose highest point is just 5 meters (15
feet) above sea level. Studies suggest the global sea level has risen
about 19.8 centimeters (7.8 inches) over the past 100 years, and some
experts say the rate is increasing.
"Tuvalu is flat. As flat as a pancake," Laupepa said. "We are at the
front line of climate change."
In March, the country's prime minister appealed to Australia and New
Zealand to provide homes for his people if his country is washed away.
But at what is expected to be the world's largest U.N. gathering, the
country is being ignored.
Contentious negotiations over the conference's action plan have mainly
involved three groups: the European Union, a coalition of industrialized
nations including Japan and the United States, and the G-77 group of
Tuvalu is a member of none of these.
When Tuvalu's representative raises his hand in heated negotiating
meetings, he is never called on, some officials say. His contributions
to the climate change debate are brushed aside.
"The nations with the most at risk should be the ones that are the most
heard," said Jennifer Morgan, of the World Wildlife Fund.
The issue of global warming, which was so central to negotiations at the
Rio Earth Summit in 1992, is barely present here.
At the earlier summit, 170 nations agreed to voluntarily reduce
greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels.
The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which is strongly supported by Europe, seeks to
codify the Rio pledges and make emissions reductions binding. But the
United States has rejected the protocol and strongly opposes any
explicit mention of Kyoto in this summit's action plan.
"We would prefer it to refer to a global effort without a specific
reference to the Kyoto protocol that would respect those that are
pursuing Kyoto as well as those producing other strategies," a senior
official with the U.S. delegation said.
The United States and other oil-producing countries also have proposed
watering down timetables for expanding the world's use of renewable
energy. Many experts believe that fossil fuels and other nonrenewable
energy sources contribute to global warming.
Tuvalu worries that global warming is causing more deadly cyclones at
odd times of the year. It is changing its seasons, throwing off the
island's agricultural schedule and damaging the marine ecosystem that
many depend on for their livelihoods.
Many of Tuvalu's climate change concerns are shared by fellow members of
the 43-nation Alliance of Small Island States, which includes nations as
diverse as Cuba and Mauritius.
"Climate change continues to be a highly underrated issue," said Tuitoma
Neroni Slade, Samoa's ambassador to the United Nations and the chair of
the island alliance. "Everybody that should be backing Kyoto is stepping
Morgan, of the World Wildlife Fund, said the main climate change
concerns should be dealt with through the Kyoto process, not here. But
she said the effort to ignore Tuvalu's plight has been unfair.
"It just shows the balance of power. These rich nations, they have such
a bigger say when Tuvalu has so much at stake," she said.