‘We are facing a catastrophe’ warns Tuvalu islander

by
18 December 2008

Swift decisions on combating global warming are vital, says Andrew Hogg

Time is running out, he says: centre: the Revd Tafue Lusama in Poznan

Time is running out, he says: centre: the Revd Tafue Lusama in Poznan

THE Revd Tafue Lusama, a pastor from the Christian Church of Tuvalu, is a worried man. At the UN climate-change summit in Poznan, Poland, last week (News, 12 December), his tone was sombre, even funereal, as was his message.

Catastrophe awaits the Pacific islands that are his home, he warned, if the international community can­not agree a new climate deal to counter global warming.

The inhabitants of Tuvalu, a group of eight low-lying islands half­way between Australia and Hawaii, are only too aware of the growing risk that they may, in the not too distant future, have to abandon their homes to the sea. It has a land mass of 26 square kilometres, and the highest point is just 16 feet above sea level. Three small islets of Tuvalu have already become completely submerged in the past 20 years.

Rising sea-levels have contam­inated underground freshwater supplies, affecting agriculture. Fishing — for many the only other source of sustenance — has become a hit-and-miss affair, as climate change has disrupted currents and shoaling patterns.

“Failure to come up with a strong programme for tackling climate change will be a signature on our death warrant,” Mr Lusama said. “It is our only hope of survival — other­wise it will be mass murder. And if Tuvalu goes down today, the rest of the world goes down tomorrow.

“It is a worry that is now always uppermost in the minds of the people. They are confronted with it daily. Some islands are now entirely dependent on rainwater for fresh-water supplies, but we can go with­out rain for months.”

Mr Lusama was speaking at a meeting in Poznan organised by the Countdown to Copenhagen cam­paign, launched by the Association of World Council of Churches-Related Development Organisations in Europe (APRODEV) to underline that time is running out for a new climate deal.

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After the summit of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Poznan, there is now just a year to work out its contents before the next UNFCCC summit in Copenhagen this time next year.

Agreement there is essential, as the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, which sets legally binding caps on carbon emissions, runs out in 2012. It will take two years for govern­ments to ratify phase two.

There were three positive out­comes at Poznan:

• talks in 2009 will be full negoti­ations — not discussions;

• a programme and schedule of talks was agreed;

• an Adaptation Fund to help poor countries deal with climate change will now become opera­tional.

Developed nations failed to in­dicate how far they are prepared to go in cutting emissions, however, other than to reiterate they would “consider” cuts of 24 to 40 per cent — language that was agreed a year ago.

Nor did they indicate how much money they are prepared to give to developing countries to help them adapt to the impact of climate change.

Nelson Muffuh, a Christian Aid climate-change adviser, said: “The levels of leadership and ambition shown were grossly inadequate. The lack of progress casts serious doubts as to whether rich and industrialised countries are seriously committed to achieving an adequate and equitable deal.”

Mr Lusama prefers not to dwell on what might happen if carbon emissions push global temperatures to above 2°C, the point beyond which scientists predict climate catastrophe. “Getting a strong climate deal is Plan A,” he says, “but of course there has to be a Plan B — mass relocation. But to where?”

Andrew Hogg is campaigns editor at Christian Aid.

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