Published on Tuesday, April 4, 2000 by Agence-France Presse
Pacific Islanders: After Facing War, Nuclear Testing Now Victims Of Global Warming

RAROTONGA - Pacific islanders, who for years have been forced to accommodate the needs of others, are now questioning why they have to pay for global warming and rising sea levels, Cook Islands Prime Minister Terepai Maoate said here Monday.

Speaking as a week-long political and scientific conference on climate change and its effects opened here, Maoate said Pacific Islanders had to accomodate the ravages of world war and live with nuclear testing in the atmosphere and in the sea.

"We have been asked to live with the destruction of chemical weapons and we have been asked to live with the shipment of hazardous wastes and plutonium through our waters," he said.

"So much has been asked of the Pacific region over the years that it should not be surprising to anyone that the Pacific region has found its own voice and now asks its own questions."

Moate said requests continued to be made of the region, particularly in relation to rising sea levels, but now the region was asking its own questions.

"What do I say to a tourism-led business community that is destroyed by a perception of contamination if a ship carrying nuclear waste sinks in our waters?," he said.

"What do I say to my people when they lose their land and their homes under a rising sea? And what comfort can I give to the families of cyclone victims when unexplained weather patterns continue to cause havoc on their small, unprotected communities?

"Do I tell them that the developed countries are not yet ready to acknowledge their welfare by reaching the desired reductions in gas emissions? Do I tell them that the scientific and political communities are so at odds that we must continue to live with the ongoing threats to our very existence? Or do I give them hope that the global community is acting as one in the search for answers?"

Maoate said he did not know the answers.

"However, I do know my country and I know what my people go through in their daily lives. And I know that everything possible must be done to avoid failure and provide a future."

Australias Environment Ambassador Ralph Hillman, noting the conference theme of "Linking Climate Science to Climate Policy, said there was a need for "quality" science.

"Good policy is based on sound analysis and in the climate arena, it needs to be based on quality science," Hillman said.

He hoped that after the conference the participants will develope "a realistic regional framework for addressing the issues based on sound science."

Australia has been at odds with Pacific nations for several years after Australian Prime Minister John Howard used regional forums to resist any language in communiques on climate change that would impinge on Australias industrial capacity.

Hillman said developing countries in the Pacific and elsewhere had the right to expect major emitters of greenhouse gases to act to address the growth of greenhouse emissions.

He said Australia was putting in place programmes that would see it abide by the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. This required that Australia reduce greenhouse gas emissions growth to 108 per cent of its 1990 baseline.

"Australia would like to foster a cooperative approach to the negotiations with our Pacific neighbours," he said.

"Regular dialogue and better understanding of our respective concerns will contribute positively to this aim. This conference provides an excellent opportunity to advance this understanding, along with its over-arching goal of ensuring sound climate policy based on sound science."

Copyright 2000 AFP