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Copenhagen Closeups: Tiny Islands Stand Up to Big Powers

Blog Archive | December 17, 2009 | By Brian Beauchamp

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The president of the Maldives, a cluster of islands whose highest points are just a few feet above the Indian Ocean, leads a group of small nations standing up for a much stronger climate treaty.

One of the most inspiring developments this week is the way the small, underdeveloped island nations now stand up for themselves in the global climate talks.  It’s a big change: At previous climate talks, smaller countries were often pushed aside and forgotten by the superpowers.

Not this year.

These tiny countries are now much more assertive because what happens here is a matter of life and death for their people.

Their bravery is one reason why talks slowed down: There is now a new global paradigm for how international negotiations take place.

In a speech today, at a press conference here in Copenhagen, the president of Tuvalu explained how tough it’s been to hold their ground.:

“There are some countries, like Australia, who have been trying to arrange a meeting with us to probably water down our position on 1.5 degrees Celsius. We did not attend that meeting, but I heard from other small islands that Australia was trying to tell them if they agree to the 2 degrees limit, money would be on the table for adaptation process. That’s their choice to accept the money and back down. But Tuvalu will not. As I said in my speech, 1.5 degrees Celsius is our bottom line…

As a human being, I feel that the leaders that are pushing their countries to adopt this 2 degrees should know from science that that will be killing a lot of people around the world. That should change their position. I will not sign anything less than 1.5.

We just have to prepare ourselves for the worst. We have nowhere to run to. We must prepare ourselves individually, family-wise, so that we know what to do when a cyclone comes or the hurricane blows. There is no mountain we can climb up, no inland we can run to. We just have the face it. And that’s why we’re making noises around the world … We don’t want to disappear from this Earth.
We want to exist as a nation. Because we have a fundamental right to exist alongside yourselves.”

Yesterday, President Mohammed Nasheed of the Maldives, another small island nation, spoke passionately about his country’s fight for survival in these negotiations:

“This is the endgame in more ways then one. I think we should celebrate the progress made so far.

No one expected such an historic endeavor to be easy. I am still optimistic that we can leave this meeting with a planet-saving deal.

I would like to point out that, during the course of the last two years, negotiators have tried hard to come up with a draft text that can be place in front of heads of state tomorrow. Last night, very late last night, early in the morning, there was a text that was somewhat finalized, but again, negotiators are unable to agree upon this text. Therefore, I am so sorry to say that come tomorrow, heads of state will not have a draft text in front of them. We will be in trouble and we might not come up with an agreement in Copenhagen.

That in my mind is totally unacceptable, not just only for us, but for millions and millions o f people around the world. The Aosis group has proposed a text for this purpose and the Maldives will do its upmost to help make this outcome a reality

For us, this more then just another meeting. It is a matter of life and death. Carbon concentrations higher then 350 ppm and temp rises about 1.5 degrees will submerge my country, dissolve our coral reefs, turn our oceans to acid  and destabilize the planet.

Anyone who says these numbers are impossible is saying that it is impossible to save us, to save our nation. This I cannot accept.

Ladies and gentlemen, to make these 350 and 1.5 degrees goals a reality the IPCC states that we must peak emissions by 2015.

The U.S. says it opposes the 350 target because the technology does not exist to make it. I would like to point out that when President Kennedy announced that the U.S. would want to go to the moon there was no technology to back the president. But very soon, in fact seven years later, man landed on moon.

But I know that there is no limit to American ingenuity. This is the country that first announced it would send a man to the moon. And then worked around the clock to build a spacecraft. Get the politics right and the technology will follow.

Technical creativity can make great leaps for mankind, but politics must create the spring board.

Industrialized countries must raise the level of their ambition. They must commit to 45 percent carbon cuts by 2020 and 95 percent by 2050.

The fact is that the majority of the future emissions rises are projected to come from developing countries.

I’m sure that if China shows leadership others will follow. After all, it is not carbon that we want, but development. It is not coal we want, but electricity. It is not oil we want, but transport.

Developed countries created the climate crisis. Developing countries must not turn into a calamity.

Therefore I invite the leaders of big developing countries to recognize the responsibilities. I urge them to bring forward verifiable actions to bring carbon intensity 30 percent below business as usual by 2020.

I believe you should not ask others to do what you refuse to do yourself.

Please help us go green.

When we say this, please bear this in mind, that climate change negotiations have nothing, nothing at all to do with money.

Maldives is a very small state. We have never received aid from European Union countries.

Climate change negotiations for me, and for my country, have everything to do with our grandchildren.

If we continue business as usual, we will not be able to see our grandchildren.

I am also encouraged by regional climate initiatives in places like California and Quebe,c where true leadership is being shown outside the realm of the nation- state.

Climate change, I do understand, is an issue that transcends nationality, that transcends the nation-state. And what we have on offer[from them] falls far short of what we are seeing from sub regions, provinces, or states.

Ladies and gentlemen, Kyoto divided the world … our task now is to unite the world behind a shared vision of low-carbon growth.

The Maldives is trying to lead the way. I call on every country on the world to join us, not just for the sake of the Maldives, but for the sake of the entire planet.

If we are not able to come to an understanding during the course of the 48 hours I think we might very well be doomed.

I’m inspired by the way these smaller countries stand up for themselves and, in turn, ensure that even if we don’t get a real deal in Copenhagen, the rest of the world is getting the clear message that global warming and its effects are directly threatening peoples’ entire way of life. Maybe countries that feel insulated from the problem are beginning to realize that we’re all vulnerable, and if we’re not feeling the effects yet, if we don’t do something to solve the problem now, all of us will be harmed by the effects of climate change soon.

Brian Beauchamp is a policy specialist at the Michigan Land Use Institute. He is a coordinator of TC350, the Traverse City chapter of 350.org, the international citizens movement pushing for a lower limit on atmospheric carbon concentrations. Reach him at brian@mlui.org.

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