Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Marshall Islands pressure the US to adopt emission reduction targets

"It is not too late for the US to reverse this course of action on climate change..." says Mr Charles Paul (from the Embassy of the Republic of the Marshall Islands to the US), in his testimony before the United States House of Representatives Sub-committee on Asia, Pacific and the Global Environment in February this year. This comes at a time when some small islands are exploring various political and even legal avenues for tangible action on climate change.

Whilst he recognised the positive role the US has played in advancing a number of globally important issues in the past, he expressed deep frustration that despite 120 separate Congressional bills which entailed discussions on climate change the matter remains unresolved. It is equally ironic that elements of the US Clean Air Act of 1990 inspired the Kyoto emissions trading mechanism. This plea for the US to take leadership is urgent especially when small islands like the Marshall islands increasingly face the impacts of sea level rise. What is happening in Tuvalu, may also occur there.

Is the US able to take a leadership role? Mr Paul is convinced they can, especially when the State of California, also the tenth largest economy in the world, decided to take voluntary measures to reduce greenhouse emissions since 2005.

"California will continue to be a leader in the fight against global warming and protecting our environment. Today I am establishing clear and ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in our state to protect our many natural resources, public health, agriculture and diverse landscape," said Governor Schwarzenegger. In his speech he focused on the opportunities that lie in moving towards a decarbonised economy. He subsequently established targets to reduce GHG emissions to 2000 levels by 2010; a reduction of GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020; and a reduction of GHG emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

It can be done and California has taken the bold economic step forward. It is the only way that the impasse which exists among countries in establishing mandatory emissions reductions may be conquered. Whilst the Marshall island people struggle to stay on the surface, the US should waste no time in taking the lead in achieving a global emissions reduction target.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Alaskan Island sue oil companies for loss of village as a result of climate change

A small Alaskan village of the island of Kivalina is facing elimination due to coastal erosion as a result of melted sea ice, which according to them is caused by climate change. The sea ice which historically provided a natural barrier to the harsh wave conditions of the region is now gone for most of the year. What has now become the norm is that ice is formed much later and melts much earlier which implies that the coast is now much more exposed.

So far it has cost the community of 390 Inupiats over 400 million dollars to relocate and put in place anti-erosion measures. In fact a ceremony to open a 3 million dollar seawall around the village was suspended as the sea washed away several hundred metres of the wall following a moderate storm.

This tragedy is certainly not unique and isolated. More than 200 villages in Alaska and indeed more than 30 small island states, comprising of thousands of islands, have been losing precious land over the last decade, and it is expected that several of these islands will have disappeared under the waves before the end of this decade.

With few options left, the residents of Kivalina have decided to take the matter to court. This is not the first time Alaska is in the middle of a pioneering  legal battle for the environment and indeed for the livelihoods of the indigenous people living there. The Exxon Valdez oil spill settlement case comes to mind, but more recently ConocoPhilips has been subjected to tough requirements to ensure its activities does not pollute the Alaskan environment.

Does this signal a new trend in lawsuits related to climate change? The 20 or so, oil and power companies will indeed be hiring a team of top lawyers to tell the courts there is 'no case'. These developments may indeed place further pressure on governments and the private sector to take responsibility and action to reverse climate change. This may give some hope to many other indigenous island peoples around the planet who are now facing the threat of sea level rise and global warming.


Photo: Vulnerable village of Kivalina, Alaska (