'In the end, we all share the same island'

by Charmaine Scotty and Jean-Paul Adam, AOSIS | AOSIS
Thursday, 13 November 2014 10:32 GMT

A general view shows tourists on the sandy beaches outside the Seychelles capital Victoria on January 17, 2009. REUTERS/Richard Lough

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It is not too late to avert the worst of climate change, island nations say

For tourists in search of natural beauty and isolation, it is hard to do better than this group of palm-fringed islands in the Indian Ocean, situated 1,500 kilometers east of Kenya and a few degrees south of the equator.
 
In the Seychelles, we grew up surrounded by maritime vistas and experienced the incomparable solitude of island living firsthand, but as ministers working to improve the quality of life for our people, we soon recognised that some of the same characteristics that make our countries so appealing also present barriers to economic development.
 
Certain challenges involve our small populations and remoteness: Dependence on imports and our diminutive economies of scale leave us at the mercy of the boom and bust cycles of the global economy, particularly when it comes to food and energy. We also rely on a healthy abundance of fish for protein and income, which means that pollution and overfishing on one side of the ocean can mean serious trouble on ours.
 
Other difficulties relate to geography: Many island nations lay just meters above sea level and are scattered across latitudes prone to extreme weather. Still, for generations, communities from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, and all the islands in between, have found innovative ways to adjust to these realities.
 
But it is becoming increasingly difficult to adapt to the impacts of dramatic climate change, which have compounded our sustainable development challenges by intensifying hurricanes and droughts, and is even causing the sea to rise around us. At the same time, ocean acidification caused by the carbon emissions responsible for the crisis is damaging the coral reefs that provide essential habitat for our fisheries.
 
Almost 25 years ago, recognizing that this is a problem we cannot tackle alone, a group of island nations formed the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) to advocate for climate action at the United Nations. In fact, not long after, Nauru, our group’s current chair, proposed an idea for an international climate change treaty that evolved into what is known today as the Kyoto Protocol.
 
Our membership has grown to include 44 island and coastal countries from across the aforementioned oceanic regions, representing almost a quarter of the U.N.’s voting membership. However, despite our best efforts fossil fuel dependency has proven to be a hard habit to break and emissions continue to rise.
 
Now, the last best chance to take the action required to avert the worst impacts of the crisis begins next month at the U.N. climate negotiations in Lima, Peru. The talks are meant to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive climate agreement to be signed in Paris next year.
 
THE ROUTE TO AN AGREEMENT

Ahead of these consequential events, we co-hosted a meeting of AOSIS’s Foreign Ministers and heads of delegation here in the Seychelles to strategise and prepare, with our ultimate objective being a legally binding agreement applicable to all parties that is capable of limiting temperature increases to below 2 or 1.5 degrees Celsius and the financial support from developed to developing countries needed to get the job done.
 
It is true that the delay has made the work more difficult, and islands aren’t the only places in trouble anymore. Major urban centers, including New York, London, and Beijing, are now at risk for flooding if emissions are not brought down quickly. But breathtaking advances in renewable energy technology bringing near price parity with fossil fuels have put the solutions to climate change well within reach.
 
In fact, arriving here in the Seychelles one of the first things you notice is the spinning turbines of a new wind farm that now provides power to more than 2,100 homes, avoiding about 5,500 tons of carbon dioxide emissions and $3.7 million U.S. dollar fuel costs per year.
 
In the Pacific, Nauru has begun a small-scale programme to test solar desalination equipment, which will help slash emissions and free up cash for other sustainable development priorities, like education and public health.
 
Similar projects are under way in other countries in our regions and across the Caribbean Sea.
 
Even though our emissions are a fraction of the global total, AOSIS sees the opportunity, economic and otherwise, in acting now, and we have been working with developing and developed partners to ramp up the deployment of solutions like the ones described above as part of the negotiations for near-term emissions reductions, but we need to accelerate our work today.
 
It is not too late to avert the worst impacts of climate change or to come visit the world’s remarkable island nations and live the incomparable island experience for yourselves. You may also discover how much all of us could accomplish if when we recognise that in the end we all share the same island.

Charmaine Scotty is Nauru's minister for education and is a special envoy on climate change. Jean-Paul Adam is the foreign minister of the Seychelles.