Victory in Bonn? Just ask Tuvalu

By Tooker Gomberg, Toronto, Canada.

178 of 189 UN members agree to rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but they may not go far enough for Tuvalu.

The world crept back from the brink at 5 am Monday morning. Representatives from 178 countries out of the UN’s 189 members finally agreed in Bonn, Germany, to put in place legally binding rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s a far cry from the promises made in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 to reduce emissions from the industrialized countries by 5 per cent (as compared to 1990 levels) by 2012.

And it probably won’t help the most recent country to join the UN, the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu. In fact, that country of 11,000 located halfway between Australia and Hawaii may vanish altogether thanks to our driving and consuming. Eighty per cent of Tuvalu’s nine islands lies less than 2 meters above sea level, so the country may disappear over the next 50 years as the Pacific warms and expands. Panapasi Nelsone, Tuvalu’s secretary to government, asks plaintively on the telephone, “Where else can we go? If we cannot live underwater, then we have to move to land somewhere.”

Tuvalu and others island nations such as Kiribati already report effects of global warming, including sea-water infiltration that affects drinking-water quality and reduces the amount of land available for agriculture. Sacred sites have been washed out to sea.

The small island of Tebua Tarawa in Kiribati used to be a favourite spot for fishers. It has been submerged by the rising sea.

Should the industrialized nations pay for attempts to adapt, or for relocation? Nelsone laughs and says, “What do you think?”

His government is looking to move the entire population. They have contacted New Zealand, which is willing to help them relocate if necessary. Australia has shown little sympathy.

Steve Ingram, spokesperson for the Australian Ministry of Immigration, tells NOW: “If it gets to the point where evacuations are necessary and a response is required, it would be an international response, and Australia would be part of that response. It probably won’t be the only country. If Tuvalu goes under, there are parts of Australia that will also go under, with a number of coastal towns facing problems along those lines.”

It’s evident that the other industrialized countries feel little sense of panic about altering Earth’s patterns. If ratified by nation states, the agreement will only postpone catastrophic impacts of a warming world by a few years. Leading scientists say we need cuts of 60 to 80 per cent to stabilize the climate or we’ll face rising sea levels, the disappearance of our frozen north, a massive die-off of the world’s coral reefs and increasingly violent weather patterns.