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Sinking Islands In The Pacific:
1.5 Degrees Celsius To Stay Alive

By Marianne de Nazareth

15 December, 2009

At a press briefing about the impacts of Climate Change in Island states held at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Ma’afu the minister for the environment and Climate Change of Tonga, was joined at the podium by young representatives from the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

The minister showed the gathering a slide show of pictures of how the islands are being battered by Climate Change. He said,” Even at 1.5 degrees celsius the impacts will be catastrophic and the world argues about 2 degrees. The Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and other Pacific island states including Fiji are faced with the significant impact of Climate Change. We speak from our hearts as a cyclone has only just hit Fiji yesterday. The problem of water borne diseases, dengue, sea level rise the loss of the fishing and agricultural industry while the coral reefs die, we are hit by more ways then one,” he said. “ The reality of Climate change is not in the future, but now in the present.”

With one cyclone disaster the islands struggle for years to recover he said. “ It is our home and we do not want to leave it,” he said emotionally. Just like any other culture, they have their roots in their land and they do not want to give it up, as they have not caused Climate Change.

He spoke about hope in the process at the Summit. “ That is why we are here in Hopenhagen,” he said. “ We hope for the survival of the Kyoto Protocol and a strengthened UNFCCC to go forward on.” He hoped that funding for adaptation is given to them and besides deep emission cuts taken by all countries and there has to be a deep binding agreement as well. That is the primary reason he said he was here in Copenhagen.

Then young Maylin Sese from the Solomon Islands spoke almost breaking down during her discourse.

“ I am losing my home land,” she said, “ my island is slowly sinking and because of the rise in sea levels my people are moving from one island to the next.” The increase in temperature has also caused a food security problem and the unpredictable weather is increasing the amount of rainfall that they receive. Even she has moved from the south to the middle of the island to escape water intrusion from the coast. “ We have never experienced flash floods and this year a flash flood claimed many lives.” There is an urgency to take Climate Change she said. “ To come to the conference it has taken me three days and I changed five planes. My generation asks the world leaders, what are you doing for us AOSIS states?” she says.

Rebecca Assigau the youth delegate from Papua New Guinea said, “ With Climate Change, food security, water intrusion and Climate change refugees are the three points we have to face.” The land is our heritage, she said and we have to shift for no fault of ours. It is difficult for people to adapt to a different place and they just want their own homes. She reiterated “ We want the leaders at the COP15 to realise that we have to survive with their agreement. “ Temperatures must not go beyond 1.5 celsius or we will not survive.”

The briefing ended with a simple cry for help. There was no aggression, no demands, the speakers just made a simple statement that Climate Change was no joke for their very survival.

The writer is a fellow with the UNFCCC and is reporting from Copenhagen.


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