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article imageClimate change gives world's tiny islands a big voice at COP21

By Karen Graham     Dec 10, 2015 in Environment
At the Paris climate talks, the planet's smallest nations have found their voice amid the nearly 200 countries attending COP21. While most nations are thinking of global warming in economic terms, small island nations picture a map without them.
Many of the 52 small island states across the planet have surfaces that barely rise above the level of the encroaching ocean. Perhaps because they have so much at stake in the climate talks going on in Paris, they have the right to the moral high ground, says the Associated Press.
These low-lying coastal countries share many common sustainable development challenges, just as larger developed nations around the world have to contend with. The one big difference is their size. This makes the problems of population growth, a fragile environment, susceptibility to natural disasters, and a dependence on outside resources all the more concerning.
Christopher Loeak, the president of the Marshall Islands, spoke at the Paris climate conference. Like many other small island nations, the Marshall Islands are losing their coastlines to rising sea levels, with the encroaching seawater contaminating freshwater wells, reports CTV News.
 Global efforts on climate change are falling short – and low-lying island nations such as mine ar...
"Global efforts on climate change are falling short – and low-lying island nations such as mine are already paying the earliest costs of what is fast becoming a global crisis," said Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak in September 2013.
Devra Berkowitz/United Nations
Like many other small island countries, the Marshalls are also in the line of typhoons or hurricanes that seem to have become more powerful and numerous. "We are already limping from climate disaster to climate disaster. And we know there is worse to come," Loeak told the delegates.
Vulnerability gives island nations a powerful voice
While key negotiators are still working to pare down the climate draft in order to meet the coming deadline. it is evident the fate of small island nation's is on the line. The phrase, "It's 1.5 to stay alive," comes up a lot if you're from the Marshall Islands, and it applies to all the little countries.
The world's countries agree that if global temperatures increase by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), it will result in disastrous impacts. One of those impacts could be a sea level rise that would wipe many small island nations off the world maps.
The U.S. and a number of European countries have reached out to the tiny nations, forming alliances in an attempt to create a binding climate pact in Paris. Small island nations want the world to cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, saying this threshold is critical to their survival.
Negotiators at the UN climate talks want to agree a deal to limit global warming by 2 degrees Celsiu...
Negotiators at the UN climate talks want to agree a deal to limit global warming by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-Industrial Revolution levels
Joe Klamar, AFP
This demand puts little nations at odds with Saudi Arabia, a major oil producer, and India, who really doesn't want to make emission cuts because they say it would stifle their economic growth projections. "We are not against the target of 1.5 degrees. But the issue is, how can such a target be implemented?" said Indian negotiator Ashok Lavasa. "And why do they talk about only 1.5 degrees; why not any other target?"
A request for "loss and damage"
The loss and damage question has come up before at previous climate talks, and didn't go over very well. The U.S. was one of the developed nations against the clause because we were afraid it would open the door to claims of liability and compensation. But it seems that things have changed, a little. The U.S. suggested loss and damage be mentioned in a section of the draft dealing with adaptation to climate change.
The beach on Kurumba island in the Maldives. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) is dissatis...
The beach on Kurumba island in the Maldives. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) is dissatisfied with progress in climate talks in Bonn
Sanka Vidanagama, AFP
Tiny island nations want a separate section, titled "Loss and Damage," showing it has nothing to do with adapting to climate change, but with coping with "unavoidable impacts," said Thoriq Ibrahim, the environment minister of the Maldives and chair of an alliance of small island nations.
The Maldives island group rises only 1.5 meters (3.6 feet) above sea level. Scientists warn that sea levels by the end of this century are expected to rise 1.0 meter. Ibrahim pointed out that already, some of the 196 inhabitable islands making up the Maldives group are running out of fresh water during the dry season.
People on Kiritimati or Christmas Island coral atoll in Kiribati's Line Islands build a seawall...
People on Kiritimati or Christmas Island coral atoll in Kiribati's Line Islands build a seawall to protect themselves against rising sea levels
, Secretariat of the Pacific Community/AFP
President Anote Tong of Kiribati, a Pacific nation of 33 coral atolls, has already made contingency plans for his people if and when the islands become unlivable. Kiribati bought 8 square miles (20 square kilometers) of land in Fiji in case the population has to be moved.
"We have homes that get washed away. It's happening more often and it's more severe," Tong said in Paris. When villagers ask him what they should do when seawater rushes in and contaminates their well water or ruins their crops, there isn't too much Tong can say. "I tell them you may have to leave your villages because there is nothing we can do to protect you," Tong said.
More about cop21, tiny island nations, most vulnerable, rising ocean levels, 15 to stay alive
 
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