Published on Friday, November 17, 2000 by the Associated Press
Island Nations Desperate for Action on Global Warming
by Jerome Socolovsky
THE HAGUE, Netherlands –– The omens are in their own watery backyards: Towering tidal waves. Vanishing atolls. Crumbling reefs.

To representatives of 39 small island nations, from Cape Verde to Tonga and Tuvalu, predictions that global warming will wreak environmental havoc are not mere theories for scientific debate. As environmental changes threaten their lands, they have come to press their increasingly desperate case at a U.N. conference on climate change.

"These are serious issues of economics and livelihood – issues that can disrupt the social fabric of countries," Leonard Nurse, director of Barbados' Coastal Zone Management Unit, said Thursday.

Greenpeace in Hague
Greenpeace activists stop coal being loaded into the Hemweg power station in Amsterdam, Thursday Nov. 16, 2000. The protest comes at the end of the first week of a U.N. climate conference at The Hague where delegates remained at odds over how to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses that are warming the earth's temperature. (AP Photo/Robbert Slagman)
Nurse is one of some 6,000 delegates from more than 180 countries in The Hague for the sixth U.N. climate conference. The two-week meeting, which began Monday, is aimed at reaching commitments to stem the warming trend, believed to be caused by heat-trapping emissions from industrial pollution and car exhaust.

The island nations represented here banded together 10 years ago in AOSIS, the Alliance of Small Island States, hoping to counteract the clout of industrialized countries. They reject proposals by the United States and European countries, which want to meet emissions-reduction targets by financing ecological projects in developing countries instead of cutting their own output.

"Whoever caused the problem has to clear up the problem," said Yumie Crisostomo of the Marshall Islands. She and others dismissed suggestions that island nations should adapt to changing conditions by building surge barriers and storm drains.

A U.N. panel of 2,000 scientists predicts temperatures will increase by as much as 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 100 years, raising sea levels by up to 31 inches.

Already, the effect are being felt.

In the Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago, several atolls have become permanently inundated, even at low tide. Officials blame global warming, noting that there is no oil drilling in the area and geological sinkage has been ruled out.

"We can find no other reason to point to," Nurse said.

Islands are at particular risk because common sources of livelihood – often tourism and agriculture – are clustered along the vulnerable coasts. Changes in water temperature can erode coral reefs, and rising seas threaten freshwater supplies.

"In Barbados, some of the coastal wells are showing increasing levels of salinity," Nurse said. "Barbados is already one of the most water-scarce countries in the world."

Rising waters have also swamped islets in the Pacific nations of Kiribati and Tuvalu, destroying roads and bridges and washing away traditional burial sites.

The threat is not only from rising water levels. Cyclones, hurricanes, droughts and other natural disasters are also believed to be associated with climate change.

For many islands, the potential effects are compounded by scarce resources.

Niue is an economically struggling flyspeck island in the South Pacific whose population of 1,800 is a third of what it was in the 1970s, in part because young people have moved away. A 1990 cyclone sent 100-foot waves crashing over the coastal cliffs and wiped away homes on the shore, according to David Poihega of the island's meteorological service.

"If we have another extreme event or a prolonged drought, it could displace all of us," he said. "We are an endangered species."

© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press