Oral Remarks of
Ambassador Masao Nakayama
Permanent Representative of the
Federated States of Micronesia to the UN
Before the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific and Global Environment
House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Washington, D.C., 27 February 2008
Check Against Delivery
Honorable Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee,
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of the Federated States of Micronesia, at your hearing on the international climate change negotiations, and on the path forward towards a post-2012 climate regime.
I would also like to express the sincere condolences of the leaders and the people of Micronesia to the family, friends, and colleagues of Congressman Tom Lantos, who provided a model of what a political leader could and should be.
I speak as the voice of the inhabitants of the islands of my country, who are already among the first victims of the adverse impacts of climate change.
To us, undeterred global warming brought about by human activity will lead to the same thing, whether abruptly or gradually - and that is nothing less than the disappearance of our country from the planet. Prompt and effective actions are needed to save the vulnerable homelands of the people of Micronesia and indeed those of many more islanders like us. Such actions must substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stabilize them within an appropriate time frame, at a level that achieves the main objectives of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Framework Convention, by the way, is a treaty to which the United States is a full party. Never mind the Kyoto Protocol, the United States is fully committed to the objective of the Framework Convention which, paraphrased, is to stabilize human-produced greenhouse gas emissions at a level that will no longer endanger the planet.
In my written submission, I have incorporated some specific measures, particularly some "fast start" strategies, as additional ways to combat climate change. My country has introduced similar suggestions to the UNFCCC secretariat as called for and to be considered under the Bali Action Plan. Among these suggestions is that parties study the structure of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which has contributed substantially to delaying the onset of climate change, in addition to protecting the ozone layer. This approach of creating climate co-benefits in other environmental processes should be given priority as another way to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Such an approach could find useful applications in many economic sectors and industries worldwide.
In addition, the upcoming Congressional five-year review of Micronesia's Compact of Free Association creates another opportunity to incorporate climate adaptation and mitigation measures in its funding provisions. Since Micronesia is already experiencing the impacts of global warming, the shared interests of the FSM and the US in the long-term stability and security of the Region virtually mandate such bilateral cooperation.
Of the sixty inhabited islands, there are 20 that are mountainous, which are inhabited by 80% of the population. However, most of these inhabitants live at the low lying coastal fringes. Some suggest that adaptation for these islands consists simply of relocating residents to higher ground inland. While some can be relocated to areas inland, most of these areas are simply the steep sides of a mountain, where trees struggle to grow. Attempts at mass relocation inland would also result in great stress on the environment including the loss of food crops on scarce arable lands and the threat of landslides. Relocation also causes social disruption, property loss and land tenure complications, issues that are already being faced by other environmental refugees in the Pacific.
Some 20,000 of Micronesia's population live on over 40 low lying and atoll islands. While all islanders are vulnerable, the inhabitants of these low lying atoll islands are among the most vulnerable people on earth. Their islands are fragile to begin with, being typically about three meters above sea level at their highest points. Long before abandoning their islands, these inhabitants will have an extended struggle with the social and economic impacts of warming temperatures and rising sea level. As beaches are threatened with loss to intensified storm and wave action expensive seawall systems must be considered, such as have been constructed already in some island nations. But even seawalls cannot protect atoll islands for long. As sea levels increase, the sea will simply rise through the porous sandy soil in the interior of the islands. As it does so, it will contaminate the islands' limited fresh water, making farming impossible and killing trees.
As waters and ocean temperatures rise, the viability of fringing coral reefs will disappear. And with the loss of these vital ecosystems food supplies will be compromised and waterline erosion will proceed more quickly.
Without immediate global action by the major polluters to cut their emissions, the long-term fate of the small islands is dire. Uninhabitable and abandoned, the islands will in time grow smaller and smaller, becoming only spits of sand, before they will completely be engulfed by the sea and remain only as submerged reefs. Not only will the inhabitants have lost their ancestral homes, but the world will have lost most of the low-lying islands in the Pacific. These will include in Micronesia over 500 uninhabited islands, which provide habitats for birds, nesting grounds for turtles, and food sources for the islanders. The United States just recently saw fit to declare a vast marine sanctuary in the Northern Hawaiian Islands. All of this would be lost.
Not to be overlooked is an issue of sovereignty that would affect Micronesia and the entire Pacific Region. Micronesia's EEZ, the current source of its economic livelihood, would substantially diminish in size, as present measurement baselines, located mostly on the atoll islands, may forever be submerged underwater.
Even as we meet here, the people out in the islands are asking why the signs they have always depended on to predict the weather are no longer accurate; why tides are surging further inland today; why the water level in their taro plots is higher than usual; why more coconuts are coming out deformed or without any juice, why more fruits of their breadfruit trees are falling off before they have matured; why generally the island's sunlight seems to be harsher and the air warmer than before; and why the leaves on the trees seem to appear less green. Employing any and all feasible adaptation measures, our people will desperately try to protect our home lands.
We seek to continue to live as a society and to perpetuate our culture as long as we possibly can. We owe nothing less to our ancestors who lie sleeping in our soil, and to our generations yet to be born.
The time for action is now, but the FSM simply lacks the necessary financial and technical resources to adapt to the onslaught of global warming or to mitigate the effects of climate change. We need the help of the international community, yes, but more especially we look to the bilateral assistance of the United States, our partner in Free Association.
Yes, it is necessary to craft mitigation, adaptation, and financing measures; to develop and share the necessary technology; and to employ both regulatory and market mechanisms in a collective effort to stop and reverse climate change. This is a must.
But human beings, their lives, cultures, and existence should be the moral reference in the climate discussion, and that reference should guide us now in the Bali process, as well as in our bilateral relations.
We need more dialogues than negotiations, and in that regard strong political will and effective, positive leadership. With that, together we can reset the course of our planetary ship and steer it to the greener shores.
This great nation, the United States of America, can provide such positive leadership. The rest of the world expects it, the vulnerable Micronesian islanders yearn for it. We respectfully ask this Congress, in this Session, to take action.