The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)'s climate
coordinator in the South Pacific says that a recent United Nations report
on climate change has "underestimated" the threat to millions of people in
the region from sea-level rise.
While the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report
provides a detailed picture of how humans activity is changing earth's
climate by burning fossil fuels, it fails to adequately identify the real
risks of sea level rise, something particularly relevant to the Pacific,
WWF coordinator Ashvini Fernando told IPS in an interview.
She said that that the danger was graver than outlined in the U.N. report,
and that by underestimating it, the report puts at risk millions of people
who live on low-lying coasts not just in the Pacific, but also around the
"Research using scientific models different to that of the IPCC have
predicted much larger increases in sea level, exceeding one metre over the
next century," said Fernando, who is regional climate change coordinator
for the WWF’s South Pacific programme. "This would have dire implications
for the Pacific as this region has many atolls and low-lying coastal areas
(which) are only several meters above sea level."
Fernando said that even on high islands, much of the population lives
along the coast which is typically low-lying so sea-level rise, especially
by as much as, or more than one metre, would be disastrous for the region.
The IPCC report, released earlier this month in Paris, blamed human
activities for global warming. It said in its grimmest warning ever that
rising temperatures could cause more droughts, heat waves and rising seas
for 10,000 years even if emissions of greenhouse gases are capped.
It predicted a three-degree Celsius temperature rise, which it said was "conservative". The real rise could be double that figure, resulting in
‘truly catastrophic’ conditions for all life on earth.
Experts say that the tiny Pacific Island nations, which collectively
account for a mere 0.0012 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, are
the most vulnerable and would be the first to feel the full brunt of
Among those most at risk are some of the world's lowest-lying islands,
such as Kiribati, Vanuatu, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and parts of
Papua New Guinea.
In Vanuatu, an entire coastal village on the island of Tegua is being
forced to move to higher ground, its huts flooded by surging seas while
Kiribati, with a population of 92,000 people, is also having to take
Reacting to the U.N. report, Kiribati President Anote Tong, told the media
that world efforts to stem global warming were welcome but may be too
late. He said that his nation was already suffering, with land and houses
washed away and even some public buildings threatened.
Fernando said that the U.N. report vindicated long-standing calls by
Pacific Island governments and civil society groups such as the WWF for a
meaningful global agreement on combating climate change.
"The Fourth Assessment Report only goes to highlight why such an agreement
is necessary and urgent. We continue to push for and hope that developed
and industrialised countries will heed the report and make the necessary
changes and emissions cuts that will ensure dangerous climate change does
On whether the new measures announced by the United States (which alone
contributes to about 25 percent of climate changing gas emissions) and
Australia to cut back on emissions went far enough, She said proposed
measures outlined in the President George W. Bush’s State of the Union
Address were inadequate.
The most effective response, she said, would be for all governments to
agree to a global solution advocating rapid expansion of renewable energy
and energy efficiency technologies.
"If the U.S. and Australia were serious about tackling climate change,
they would join the Kyoto Protocol -- a globally accepted means by which
to begin combating climate change," she said. "WWF hopes that the global
community will take on the challenge of climate change both now and in the
future making the deep cuts in emissions that are necessary to combat this
Because the Pacific Islands are small and un-influential and their
concerns easily ignored, their governments have been actively engaged in
international climate change negotiations for over a decade through the
Alliance of Small Islands States or AOSIS, a negotiating bloc at climate
She said that given the consequences of climate change, Pacific Island
countries need to engage even more effectively in international climate
policy negotiations to produce a global agreement based on the Kyoto
Protocol to keep climate change well below the 2 degree Celsius
temperature rise over pre-industrial levels.
"This report is a reminder that we have to act and act now. This year is
the last chance for governments worldwide to set meaningful targets to
curb emissions of climate changing gases at the 13th U.N. Climate Change
Conference in December, in Indonesia,’’ Fernando said.
Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service