We could talk about climate change for years.

No, seriously.  If every country in the world spoke their piece individually at the UN conference in Copenhagen this year, there is no way the issues at hand could be resolved in a two-week period.  Recognizing this, the UN has organized itself into groups or coalitions of nations and states from around the world, therefore decreasing the number of speakers  per conference and allowing for more cooperative work to take place in between world-wide meetings.

AOSIS Members

AOSIS Members

One such group is the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition of island and low-lying coastal nations whose primary objective is to gain political power by unification. Alone, their small voices would likely go unheard. Established in 1990, the group has no formal constitution, but is driven by clear, common political objectives, including:

– Polluter pays
– Environmental conservation
– Renewable energy
– Common but differentiated responsibilities

Although these nations are spread all over the world, they share a grim and binding common denominator:  many of them are in danger of disappearing completely should sea level rise as much as predicted.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimate that by 2100, sea level will rise 11-77cm.  However in the past decade, sea level rise has exceeded that estimate , leading some scientists to suggest that the water may rise over a meter before the end of the century.  For these low-lying states and nations, the effects would be devastating.  Although sea level rise will threaten the coasts of all nations, these countries may be left without even enough land to stand on.

Rising Sea Level

Rising Sea Level

Since these states are the most vulnerable to drastic, immediate effects, uniting on the political stage gives them a powerful position in climate change negotiations.  However, although they share common fears, the members come from all over the world and span a huge range of wealth and development, from wealthy states like Singapore and Cyprus to poor, under-developed islands like Samoa and Vanuatu.  These differences make coordinating a plan of action between the members difficult, considering the huge variation in money, technology, and organization available to each country.  For instance, Singapore, which lies less than 200 ft above sea level, announced strategies in 2008 to reduce energy consumption through technological advances, while Samoa, whose coast sits within 300 ft of the Pacific, will be seeking assistance from more developed countries through technology transfer legislation.

These changes are huge, and they are coming fast.  Alone, these little countries might get lost in the shadow of bigger and more powerful nations, but together, they are a glaring, concrete reminder of how urgent the negotiations at Copenhagen this winter will be.  Instead of fighting for the lives of distant descendants, we are fighting for the people across the table.  They are the first ones to save.

Surviving climate change

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