Pacific Islands Leaders Heat up protests on global warming

HONOLULU, Hawai'i (East-West Wire): March 22, 2002 - Tuvalu Prime Minister Koloa Talake holds little stock in scientists who say global warming is not causing sea levels to rise. Three islands in his nation of 10,000 people have disappeared. The beach outside his house that was 50 meters (165 feet) wide a half century ago is now only three or four meters (about 10-13 feet), and flooding has become more prevalent.

"It is frightening. Islands that used to be our playgrounds have disappeared," Talake said. "Some scientists say there is no rise in sea level, but the tide is rising. We have seen it with our own eyes."

Talake met with 10 other island leaders attending last week's Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders at the East-West Center. Pacific island nations, frustrated that industrialized countries have not given more attention to the problems caused by greenhouse-gas emission and global warming, are starting to raise their voices as one. They agreed at their meeting that developed countries need to take moral responsibility for their part in causing climate change, and although it is costly to take preventive measures, polluting nations should pay the cost.

Talake will be meeting later this month with attorneys from the U.S. mainland who have approached Tuvalu about filing a lawsuit against industrialized nations and industries.

Leo Falcam, President of the Federated States of Micronesia and Chair of the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders, said several island leaders will join him at a development conference in Mexico this week to talk about climate change and sea-level rise. "We will use any means" to draw attention to the problem, Falcam said.

Eileen Shea, the East-West Center's climate specialist, said islands and coastal communities are most vulnerable to climate change, which has a dramatic impact on their economy and public health and safety. The link between climate change and sustainable economic development has grown stronger.

Shea said that while the global response to island concerns might not be as aggressive as leaders would like, "their voices are becoming stronger and more appreciated because they are speaking with one voice. Climate change is a developmental problem. It's an issue of survival as well as economic growth for Pacific islands."

Meanwhile Tuvalu has approached Australia and New Zealand to allow islanders to emigrate there. While Australia has so far refused, New Zealand has agreed to accept 75 "environmental refugees" a year from Tuvalu. Talake also said his government is paying for a study on sustainable and renewable energy in his own nation "to show people we are not just putting our hands out."