Island Nations Warn Of Threat From Rising Sea Levels

Wednesday, October 3rd 2007, 8:25 am
By: News On 6

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Island countries from around the world warned Tuesday that despite continuous debate over the past two decades about global warming and rising sea levels, there has been little concrete action to stem the climate change that threatens their existence.

``The international community has convened numerous conferences and summits at which it has agreed on wide-ranging plans and programs of action,'' Foreign Minister of the Maldives Abdalla Shahid, told the U.N. General Assembly. ``However ... all too often the reality of implementation has failed to match the ambitious rhetoric.''

He was speaking just days after the world body convened its first-ever climate summit which sought to put new urgency into global talks to reduce global-warming emissions.

Despite calls from more than 80 world leaders at last week's meeting for quick action to combat climate change, U.S. President George W. Bush's administration showed no sign that it would reverse its stand against mandatory emission cuts endorsed by 175 other nations. Bush did not attend the summit but went to a dinner afterwards.

Greenhouse gases come primarily from the burning of fossil fuels like coal-burning power plants. Scientists and environmentalists say carbon dioxide in particular is to blame for warmer temperatures, melting glaciers and rising sea levels.

The United Nations organized last week's summit to create momentum for December's annual climate treaty conference in Bali, Indonesia, when Europe, Japan and others hope to initiate talks for an emissions-reduction agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.

The 175-nation Kyoto pact, which the U.S. rejects, requires 36 industrial nations to reduce carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

The Maldives is a low-lying island nation consisting of a number of atolls in the Indian Ocean. As the flattest nation on Earth _ with an average height of only 2.3 meters (7 feet) above sea level _ it is considered particularly vulnerable to the perils of global climate change.

Climate researchers say that many of its islands will disappear over the next century as the seas continue to rise.

Shahid said this danger was brought sharply into focus by the recent sea swells which submerged large parts of the country.

``For the past 20 years ... the Alliance of Small Island States has this been at the forefront of efforts to bring climate change and its devastating impact to the world's attention,'' he said.

His warnings were echoed by other speakers at Tuesday's General Assembly session.

``We view associated problems of high frequency of abnormal climate, sea level rise, global warming and coastal degradation as matters affecting the economic and environmental security of all small island states,'' said Timothy Harris, foreign minister of the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis, Latin America's smallest country.

Charles Savarin, foreign minister of nearby Dominica, said that rising sea temperatures were causing the death and bleaching of corals and a decline of fish stocks. Climate change also was to blame for the severity of violent storms such as hurricanes that have repeatedly ravaged the region.

``Climate change is the most pressing environmental problem humankind has ever faced,'' he said.

And Sonatane Taumoepeau-Tupou, foreign minister of the Pacific kingdom of Tonga, urged developed nations to implement emissions reductions and to provide support to developing nations to do the same.

``Climate change is not regarded just as an environmental issue, since it has implications for economic growth and sustainable development,'' he said.