Pacific islands fear climate change threatens their existence

Tuvalu (File)
Tuvalu (File)

By Annie Banerji

Two of the world's most vulnerable low-lying nations, Kiribati and Tuvalu, say upcoming climate talks in Paris are vital as rising sea levels threaten their existence.

The Pacific islands say they have been forced to consider buying land abroad to grow food and preparing their people to migrate as the seas slowly claim their homelands.

But as representatives of Pacific island nations met in Jaipur in the western Indian desert state of Rajasthan this week, the message was clear - world leaders meeting in Paris in December must deliver on expectations of a historic deal to combat global warming.

"Failure is not a fallback position, it is not an option, we cannot have it as an option. We must get success," Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga told AFP news agency.

"We may be able to run away, we may be able to purchase land in other places, maybe Australia, New Zealand.

"But that won't stop climate change, it will not stop the cause of climate change. It will not assure the people of Tuvalu that they will be safe there."

Sopoaga said climate change was now "enemy number one for Tuvalu", nine coral atolls that are home to about 11,000 residents.

Scientists predict Tuvalu and Kiribati, which are little more than a metre above sea level, could disappear in the coming decades.

Both already suffer from a range of problems linked to climate change, including more intense storms like the one that devastated Vanuatu earlier this year and salination of ground water, which makes it impossible to grow crops.

The situation is so dire Kiribati is considering relocating the entire population or building man-made islands to rehouse them.

"For us we think that things have progressed, have advanced too much, it's too late for us," Kiribati's special envoy Teekoa Luta said in Jaipur, where representatives of 14 Pacific nations held talks on Friday.

The UN conference in Paris will seek to crown a six-year effort by 195 nations with a post-2020 pact on curbing greenhouse gases.

But Luta said her tiny nation of 100,000 people was already struggling to cope with the fall-out from climate change.

"Our resources are constrained, our institutional capacity to cope with our health problems are constrained," she said.

"We spend most of our budget fixing the (natural) damages month after month and then we don't have money to spend on health, education and (other) social services."

Kiribati recently called for a global moratorium on building new coal mines and expanding existing ones - a move Luta said she hoped major economies including India would eventually support.

AFP