Bali Climate Meet Must Show Results: Pacific Islands

BEPPU, Japan ~ Leaders of small Pacific island states threatened by rising sea levels called this week for action rather than empty rhetoric at a key climate change conference underway in Bali.

Young Vivian, prime minister of the tiny Pacific state of Niue, said he feared the high-profile meeting in Bali would be “talk, talk, talk and meeting, meeting and meeting.”

“I don’t know, maybe next year there’ll be another disaster and they may still be talking,” Vivian told a first-of-a-kind Asian “water summit” in the southern Japanese town of Beppu.

“What is happening now is reported in newspapers, and it is in front of us now. On a daily basis, in many places there will be more natural disasters – storms, tsunamis, typhoons – and all sorts of problems,” he said.

The Bali conference is aimed at working out a framework to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, the landmark treaty on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that expires in 2012.

Vivian, speaking to AFP after his address, praised Australia’s new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, a move that leaves the United States as the only industrial power to snub the treaty.

“I think they (rich countries) know what we need. I think they know what they should do to reduce the emissions,” he said.

“Australia has done that now. They ratified the protocol,” he said.

Kiribati President Anote Tong showed the conference video footage of what he called the consequences of rising water levels for his island nation, including intensifying floods and storms and greater salt levels in the groundwater.

He said 25 to 50 percent of urban areas in a southern region of his country was under threat from rising sea levels, while 50 to 80 percent of villages risked being submerged in the same region.

“This is typical of what’s happening now,” he warned.

An official from Tuvalu called for technological help to secure safer water and better sanitation, while Fiji’s finance minister asked for more loans to help deal with the effects of rising water levels.

“I appeal particularly to financing institutions to consider soft-loan options for small island nations with vulnerable economies,” Fijian Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry said.

“There are other competing demands on government financing which come from the social sector,” he said.

Asia-Pacific leaders agreed at the end of the two-day meeting to “exhort the Bali Conference to take into account” problems such as the melting of snowcaps and glaciers in the Himalayas and rising sea levels, a statement said.

Prince Willem Alexander of The Netherlands, who chairs the UN International Year of Sanitation next year, called on policymakers to show more commitment.

“Everyone has a right to sanitation,” the heir to the Dutch throne said.

“Our main dilemma is that we, you and I, policymakers and opinion formers, are not confronted with the impact of inadequate sanitation,” he said.

“Consequently it takes a lot of effort to generate political will and financial commitment for something that doesn’t directly affect us,” he said.

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