Saturday, December 15, 2007

Environment: Island life is at risk

Island life is at risk, experts warn

The new Adaptation Fund for vulnerable countries to cope with global warming, announced at the climate change summit on the Indonesian island of Bali, will not be adequate, said an official of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

"We are already feeling the impact of global warming: beach erosion, coral reef bleaching, high tides, frequent flooding and more intense cyclones and storms," said Angus Friday, AOSIS spokesman and ambassador to the UN for the Caribbean island of Grenada.

Global warming could alter the size and coastlines of some members of the 44-country coalition of small islands and low-lying coastal countries, including Mauritius, Comoros, Sao Tome, Guinea Bissau and Seychelles, all in the Indian Ocean. "Countries like Tuvalu [in the Pacific Ocean] are particularly vulnerable," he added.

The AOSIS were participating in the UN climate change conference in Bali, which will launch the process of negotiating a post-2012 deal for industrialised countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions, after the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol comes to an end. The protocol is a commitment made by rich countries to cut emissions by at least five percent against a 1990 baseline.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said small islands, whether in the tropics or at higher latitudes, have characteristics that make them especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

"Sea-level rise will exacerbate inundation, erosion and other coastal hazards, threaten vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities, and thus compromise the socio-economic well-being of island communities and states," warned the IPCC's fourth assessment report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.

Island sizes could shrink and water resources would be seriously compromised, the report noted. While Mauritius and most Caribbean islands have good access to water resources at present, in countries like Comoros it has been estimated that only 50 percent of the population have access to safe water.

Costs of survival

The cost of adapting by lifting islands or building sea walls could run to billions, Friday said. "Maldives, which has 1,900 islands, out of which 210 are inhabited, found that the cost of lifting 50 islands would cost about US$1.5 billion."

The Adaptation Fund is expected to raise money from a levy of about two percent on credits generated by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), set up under the Kyoto Protocol.

The mechanism allows industrialised countries to earn and trade emissions credits by implementing projects in other developed countries or in developing countries, and put the credits towards meeting their reduction targets.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) estimates that the fund will raise up to $300 million a year by 2030, depending on the level of demand in the carbon market, which is still too little to make a real difference.

Antonio Hill of the UK-based development agency, Oxfam, said the countries would have to look for additional resources internationally and nationally in the form of taxes on aviation or carbon tariffs at home.

Impact on livelihoods

Livelihoods are at stake: global warming will have an impact on the migratory patterns of fish, said Friday; Tuvalu's foreign minister, Enele Sopoaga, said subsistence agriculture would be hard hit.

According to the IPCC, "surface temperature and rising sea level, increased turbidity, nutrient loading and chemical pollution, damage from tropical cyclones, and decreases in growth rates due to the effects of higher carbon dioxide concentrations on ocean chemistry, are very likely to affect the health of coral reefs and other marine ecosystems which sustain island fisheries."

Tourism, a major income earner for many islands, could be hard hit, the IPCC noted. Not only would beach erosion, degradation of coral reefs and sea-level rise keep visitors away, but a "loss of cultural heritage from inundation and flooding reduces the amenity value for coastal users ... water shortages and increased incidence of vectorborne diseases may also deter tourists."

The projected impacts of climate change include extended periods of drought and, on the other hand, loss of soil fertility and degradation as a result of increased precipitation, both of which would negatively impact on agriculture and food security.

Published with the permission of IRIN
Disclaimer: This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or Mike Hitchen Consulting
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