Disaster looms on rising sea levels

May 12, 2009 12:00 am

, MANADO, May 12 – Rising sea levels that could wipe whole nations off the map and displace scores of millions of people are being overlooked in global climate change talks, island countries said Tuesday.

Major emitters are pushing for greenhouse gas emissions cuts that are too low to prevent devastating sea rises, representatives said at the World Ocean Conference in Indonesia’s Manado city.

"Dealing with environmental refugees will have a much more serious impact on the global economy and global security in fact than what wars have ever done to this planet," said Rolph Payet, a presidential adviser from the African island nation of the Seychelles.

Nations under threat from even small rises in sea levels include the Pacific island states of Kiribati and Tuvalu, while major cities and vast tracts of heavily populated coastline from Bangladesh to West Africa could also go under this century.

The five-day conference has attracted hundreds of officials and experts from 70 countries and is being billed as a prelude to December talks on a successor to the expiring Kyoto Protocol.

Payet said there had been "zero" serious discussions in top international forums on how to deal with massive flows of "climate refugees" from low-lying and drought-prone areas.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted in 2007 that up to 150 million people could be displaced by the effects of climate change by 2050, which include sea level rises of as much as 59 centimetres (23 inches).

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) is pushing for 85 percent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

But Payet said the December talks in the Danish capital Copenhagen look set to produce an emissions cut target that would be too low to avert disaster.

Nations have also avoided discussing who will accept millions of people fleeing rising waters and droughts and how to resettle whole nations which could disappear under the waves this century.

"We have been talking about war refugees, crisis refugees, but not environmental refugees … it is not an accepted UN word," Payet said.

Grenada’s UN ambassador and AOSIS chief Dessima Williams said developing countries and small island states were already bearing the brunt of climate change despite producing few emissions.

"Our last hurricane was 49 years ago, and then in 2004 Grenada received a category five hurricane and nine months later a category four hurricane and very changed weather patterns," Williams said.

"Flash floods, sea surges, all these things are going to devastate whole communities, whole economies of small countries," she said.

However, consensus among major emitters is growing on the need for deep emissions cuts, she said.

The European Parliament has endorsed a non-binding plan to cut the bloc’s emissions by 80 percent by mid-century and US President Barack Obama has proposed his country make an 83 percent cut.

But official reductions targets remain lower and the details of any global agreement that would include major developing nation emitters such as China remain unknown.

The Manado conference is being touted as the first major talks on the relationship between climate change and ocean problems such as rising seas, plunging fish stocks and alarming rises in ocean acidity.

Delegates aim to agree on a joint declaration aimed at influencing the direction of talks on a post-Kyoto climate change plan in the Danish capital Copenhagen.


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