Originally published in Mother Earth Journal.
Imagine you live on an island, a tropical paradise.
Turquoise waters rise and fall at the shore’s edge. The ocean’s rhythmic sounds lull you into a sense of security. All feels right in your island home.
Then reality hits. You’re a lifelong resident of an island in the the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean, and you’re 10 days away of having drinking water left.
“The rains should have started. They’ve failed,” says the Seychelles Ambassador to the United Nations, Ronny Jumeau. “It’s never been this bad – it’s climate change that’s compounding it.”
Now travel halfway around the world, to Alaska. “Our permafrost is melting,” Patricia Cochran, steering committee chair of the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change tells listeners.
Arctic homes are falling into the ocean. Climatic changes is changing the patterns of the caribou, the seals, polar bears. “When we open our front door, those are our supermarkets,” she says. “We rely on the quantity and quality of our food to sustain us.”
Melting permafrost is releasing toxic pollutants that travel from industrialized countries. Blood levels of such pollutants as PCBs and mercury are several times higher in residents of Arctic Canada and Greenland than measured in residents of industrialized areas of North America.
And methane. “I think everyone knows that methane is worst,” Cochran says.
The impact of climate change on coastal zones is the common denominator that has brought this group of 20 Arctic and the small island developing states (SIDS) together. Their alliance, Many Strong Voices promotes the well-being, security, and sustainability of their coastal communities, takes on climate change mitigation and adaptation, and tells their stories to the world.
MSV representatives Cochran, Jumeau, vice president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council Kirk Ejesiak, and representative to the UN for North-South XXI and member of the UN Human Rights & Climate Change Working Group Margaret Wewerinke are speaking from Cancun, Mexico, site of this year’s UN climate summit that runs through Dec. 10.
Representatives from 193 world governments are gathered here, charged with negotiating future commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, a pact approved by 37 industrial countries and the European community in 1997 that is set to expire in 2012.
“It’s amazing to see how our worldwide communities are so alike, and are facing many of the same kinds of issues,” says Cochran. “Even though they have palm trees, and we have ice.”
Jumeau says his people have as much stake in preserving the ice in the Arctic as the people in the Arctic do. “If their ice goes, we go.”
Under the terms of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, different nations have varying levels of responsibility to meet the challenges posed by climate change. “The alliance of small island states knows we’re not going to get an agreement here,” Jumeau says.
He says the SIDS are pushing to be heard in the decisions that commit us to continue pushing for a legally binding agreement in South Africa. “Without a legally binding commitment we’re worried that some will say, why continue the process.”
On the third day of the summit, Japan announced it made no sense to set the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, as the current Protocol is imposing obligations “on only a small part of developed countries,” a position Japanese negotiator Hideki Minamikawa told reporters in Cancun was “clearly decided” by Japan’s cabinet.
Under the Protocol, countries that have contributed the most greenhouse gas emissions have a responsibility to dramatically cut emissions and assist the most vulnerable peoples who existence is threatened, and regions to adapt.
“But where’s the money?” asks Jumeau. “Pledges don’t mean anything to us. Pledges don’t hold back the ocean.”
Jumeau said the SIDS are consistent in wanting to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, along with the least developed countries and Africa. “We are all calling for 350 PPM (parts-per-million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere),” he said. “Already we are at 390 PPM and look at the massive coral bleaching. As if that’s not enough now we have ocean acidification." Acidification is caused by carbon dioxide accumulating in the ocean.
Carbon dioxide or CO2 is generated from the combustion of fossil fuels and the burning of vegetable matter. Jumeau said while leaders at last year’s climate summit in Copenhagen vowed to stop global temperatures from rising above two degrees Celsius, a rise that high threatens their very existence.
“Not all of us associated with the Copenhagen Accord of 2.0,” Jumeau said. “And many of those who did, did so because they were scared they would be denied funding.
“There is no way we are going to commit suicide to please the others.”