Thursday, December 17, 2009

Small islands make a big difference in Copenhagen

Copenhagen – December 13-09 -- A seismic event has happened in the COP15 Climate Change talks – and it is based on actions by small island nations such as Tuvalu, Palau and Grenada. Tuvalu, a small south Pacific island nation, made an aggressive proposal at the Copenhagen Talks towards high levels of climate change protection. Speaking on behalf of the 20 member Alliance of Small Island Nations, Tuvalu laid out an ambitious vision for a binding climate deal. It introduced a proposal to cut carbon emissions by 85% by mid-century and imposing an aggressive 350 ppm (parts per million) limit the reduce what could be considered as acceptable carbon dioxide emission levels. The goal of the proposal is to reduce the 2 degree Celsius target climate temperature increase recommended in 2007 by the UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change.

The costs for islands like Tuvalu are very real. It is a small island nation that has very real concerns for its very survival. Islands like Tuvalu have suffered a staggering loss of fisheries and the health of its coral reefs are at peril caused directly by climate change. Other islands like the Maldives threatened to be submerged if global sea levels rise.

The position of the small island nations at the Copenhagen talks demonstrates an evolution in negotiations. It marks the first split in the power of the developing states. Styled as the G77, the developing states have wielded tremendous negotiating clout at international climate conferences on account of their impressive membership – comprising nearly one half of the 193 countries at the Conference. This time the G77 have been joined by China – resulting in an even more powerful economic and political force.

Yet the Small Island Nations proposal has resulted in a split in the G77. This is the first time that there has been a public split in this voting bloc – but perhaps the split was inevitable. The interests of the largest members of the G77, China and India, have differed from most of the other less industrialized members of the group. Industrialized developing countries have been concerned about the costs of actually obtaining emission cuts in their own countries –something that was not required of them under the lenient terms of the Kyoto Protocol. China is now the world’s largest emitter of carbon. When it is added to the G77, the split between the two largest developing states and the others becomes pronounced and clear. The interests of “CHININDIA” are very different from the majority of the G77.

The climate change protestors and the island nation of Tuvalu want a mandatory and meaningful climate treaty. China, India and the developed states do not. So goes Tuvalu, so goes these talks.

The Tuvalu proposal is also interesting as it has relied on a technical element of the existing Kyoto Protocol to amend it instead of creating a new treaty from the Copenhagen Conference. The amendment proposal requires that a vote be held at the Cop15 talks – something in itself that is very rare at such international conferences.

Tuvalu has identified previously unseen seismic faults lurking beneath the G77 coalition. The Tuvalu proposal is much more significant than any number of protests or placards. So the quakes caused by tiny Tuvalu may well result in a virtual tsunami at these talks. Through its actions, it is threatening to cause a highly divisive vote at the climate talks that may cause China to reconsider its new-found embrace of emission reductions.

Barry Appleton
National Director
Appleton Charitable Foundation

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