The Republic of Kiribati hosted a side event today that was both emotional as well as a call for immediate action. For all those who are not familiar with Kiribati  it is the  largest atoll nation in the world, comprising 33 distincnt islands including the world’s largest marine protected area (Phoenix Island). It is also the most vulnerable to the imminent dangers of climate change. Tessie Eria Lambourne, Secretary of Foreign Affairs,  said Kiribati is “in the front of the the front line” of those nations facing irreversible climate change impacts. She and her colleagues cited the immediate effects climate change has on freshwater resources,  which already accounts for high infant mortality rates throughout the islands.  Even worse, without serious emission reductions worldwide,  the majority of Kiribati will be inundated with water by the end of the century. This is especially troubling in a nation where it’s capital island, South Tarawa, has a comparable population density with Hong Kong.

"we don't have much choice regarding our islands geography....we don't want to be environmental refugees"

"We don't have much choice regarding our island's geography....We don't want to be environmental refugees"- Kiribati Secretaries of Environment and Foreign Affairs

Kiribati is doing everything it can to reduce its own carbon footprint and is encourage other nations to do the same.  It is a member of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and is actively engaging  the COP15 negotiations. Luckily and understandably so, the UNFCCC recognized constituency dedicated to the interests of youths worldwide  (commonly referred to as the YOUNGOs) has formed a positive relationship with AOSIS members. This relationship was forged because the dangers of climate change will be felt most heavily between these two groups. As a result both groups carry more weight in influencing the decision makers attending the official negotiations and plenary sessions. This type of engagement and collaboration has been one of the most impressive take-aways from the negotiations thus far. It is encouraging seeing people from all over the world, regardless of position, sex, or race, come together to work to do their part in tackling this beast of a problem. And that what its going to take.

Nevertheless, the situation of climate change will be felt by the citizens of Kiribati and youth worldwide for quite some time to come. And only halfway into week one of COP15, there remains many more questions than answers.

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2 Responses to ““We will be the first to go if nothing happens here in Copenhagen””

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  2. Sarah Schmitz, LA says:

    So if an island nation is submerged beneath the ocean, does it maintain its membership in the United Nations? Who is responsible for the citizens? Do they travel on its passport? Who claims and enforces offshore mineral and fishing rights in waters around a submerged nation? International law currently has no answers to such questions.

    United Nations Ambassador Phillip Muller of the Marshall Islands said there is no sense of urgency to find not only those answers, but also to address the causes of climate change, which many believe to be responsible for rising ocean levels.

    “Even if we reach a legal agreement sometime soon, which I don’t think we will, the major players are not in the process,” Muller said.

    Those players, the participants said, include industrial nations such as the United States and China that emit the most carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases. Many climate scientists say those gases are responsible for global warming. Mary-Elena Carr of Columbia University’s Earth Institute said what is now an annual sea level rise of a few millimeters will increase dramatically by the year 2100. “The biggest challenge is to preserve their nationality without a territory,” said Bogumil Terminski from the University of Geneva. International legal experts are discovering climate change law, and the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is a case in point: The Polynesian archipelago is doomed to disappear beneath the ocean. Now lawyers are asking what sort of rights citizens have when their homeland no longer exists.

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