August 5, 2009

Future Of Pacific Island Nations Hinges On Climate Change Deal

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Wednesday that striking a new global deal to reduce the impact of climate change is crucial to the future of vulnerable Pacific island nations, AFP reported.

Climate change has emerged as a key issue at the opening of the Pacific Islands Forum summit of regional leaders in the northeastern Australian city of Cairns.

The two days of talks will also see leaders from Australia, New Zealand and 13 Pacific Island nations discussing Fiji and the impact of the global economic crisis.

Atoll archipelagos such as Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, where the highest ground is only a few feet above sea level, are among the forum countries that are considered the most vulnerable in the world to the impact of climate change.

Major talks in Copenhagen in December will attempt to strike a new global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and reduce the rate of climate change.

Rudd told the forum that Pacific island countries are among the least responsible for the causes of climate change and that they will bear the brunt of its impact the most.

"We must all act together to meet this challenge. We must use every opportunity to recommit ourselves as a region and as an international community to deliver a strong outcome in Copenhagen necessary for the planet, necessary for the Pacific, necessary for all our peoples," he said.

Rudd said Australia would help keep the interests of Pacific countries on the table in global climate change discussions.

He added that the country's first responsibility would be to get a good outcome in Copenhagen, because those in the front line of the impact of climate change are within its own region.

"We have a responsibility to act," he said.

Australia and New Zealand and other developed countries were called on to slash their greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2020. Australia has offered to cut its emissions by 25 percent by 2020 if other developed countries agree to ambitious cuts at Copenhagen.

"The storm surges we have experienced over the years have become more intense and more frequent and have destroyed lots of our homes, our livelihoods in terms of our crops and critical infrastructure," said Kiribati foreign affairs official Tessie Lambourne.

She called it a "very emotional" issue for her country, which is made up of 33 coral atolls straddling the equator.

Yvo de Boer of the UN climate change office said the Pacific was the face of climate change and acknowledged that a strong call from Pacific leaders would be an important signal on the road to Copenhagen, a signal they are in dire need of at the moment.

Formulating a regional response to the global financial crisis was another main focus of the two-day summit.

Rudd said they needed to do this to make a real difference to the 2.7 million people living across the Pacific who still today live in poverty.

Forum chairman Toke Talagi of Niue said Tuesday that island nations were not ready to begin talks with Australia to launch negotiations for a new free trade and economic relations deal.

The agreement, known as PACER Plus, is critical for driving closer economic integration in the region and advancing towards the UN's Millennium Development Goals, Rudd explained.


Image Caption: Laura Beach, the Marshall Islands. Courtesy Stefan Lins - Wikipedia