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BY TARO KARASAKI, STAFF WRITER

2008/7/5

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photoTavau Teii, deputy prime minister of Tuvalu, calls for drastic emissions cuts at a Tokyo news conference last month.(TARO KARASAKI)

This wraps up our series on the Group of Eight summit in Hokkaido that starts Monday.

The audience gasped as Tavau Teii, deputy prime minister of the tiny Pacific island state of Tuvalu, presented his slide show.

Frame after frame showed how global warming threatens to submerge the island group that is home to fewer than 12,000 people.

The pictures showed coastal communities devastated by relentless waves and farmland turned fallow by encroaching seawater.

In a word, the situation facing Tuvalu is disastrous.

"Tuvalu stands as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. There is no time to waste," Teii said, addressing about 650 citizens at a public awareness symposium organized by Tokyo's Adachi Ward late last month ahead of the Group of Eight summit that starts Monday in Hokkaido.

Simply put, low-lying Tuvalu--its highest point above sea level is 4.5 meters--faces a very genuine threat of being swallowed up by the sea.

The fact that Teii was in the Tokyo suburb, one that shares a commonality with Tuvalu in that it, too, is situated near sea level and faces a constant threat of flooding itself, no doubt was a reason for many in the audience to cheer.

For a small nation clamoring to have its voice heard, it was a crucial opportunity before the summit to convey an inconvenient truth; that Tuvalu bears the brunt of global warming.

Asked after the June 21 symposium what message he had for the G-8 leaders, Teii replied, "We are looking forward to strong leadership from Japan (at the summit) to draw commitment particularly from the high emitting countries," to reach agreement on more drastic emissions reductions.

For Japan, Teii's visit served a key interest of its own. Two days earlier, Tokyo had unveiled an assistance program to help Tuvalu better cope with rising sea levels.

Ironically Teii, who was to deliver a speech, missed that opportunity, because his flight to Tokyo was canceled due to mechanical failure.

The event was to serve as a showcase for Japan's first program to help Pacific island states cope with the impact of global warming under the Cool Earth Partnership, a wide-ranged program for helping developing countries deal with climate change.

"We wanted to get this out before the summit," said an Environment Ministry official, referring to the assistance package. In January, Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita visited Tuvalu, followed by two separate study missions organized by the foreign and environment ministries in February and March.

The official acknowledged that Tokyo hopes that by aiding Tuvalu, and eventually other island nations, it will be able to gain support from the island nations for its Cool Earth Initiative of halving emissions by 2050, Japan's proposal for a post-Kyoto Protocol framework.

However, the government has yet to decide how many island nations it will assist.

Meanwhile, another worrisome development has arisen on the horizon.

As delegations sparred over creating a road map for the post Kyoto Protocol process at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, in mid-December, Tuvalu's Prime Minister Apisai Ielemia submitted a proposal for dealing with climate change, aimed at prodding the major emitters to heed the demands of island nations.

The proposal called on industrialized countries to create systems to compensate for damage caused by global warming, with funding from taxes that would be levied on international airline fees and shipping fees.

The Environment Ministry rejects the notion that its aid for island states, such as Tuvalu, represents a form of compensation.

"It is not meant to establish a link between current rising sea levels with past carbon emissions," the official said. "Rather, it is a measure to help better prepare islands for the projected future effects of climate change."

While welcoming the package, experts based in small Pacific island nations note that more will be expected from Japan.

"I think Japan is focusing too much on Tuvalu, which has become iconic. Every island in the Pacific is going to feel the effects of climate change over the next 25 to 30 years," said Patrick Nunn, a professor of geology at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji.

Nunn said that flooding has been reported near Fiji's international airport twice a year in recent years.

At the same time, Nunn called Japan's program a "short-term measure, not a long-term sustainable one."

At the current pace, it is inevitable that parts of island states such as Tuvalu will become inhabitable in 50 years, he said.

The Japanese program, as he understood it, would "likely only help islanders survive for another 30 years."

"Climate change is a problem caused by industrialized countries, with the burden borne disproportionately by developing countries, like those in the Pacific. Those responsible for causing the problem should shoulder greater responsibility in alleviating it," said Jyotishma Naicker, a climate change specialist at WWF South Pacific Program based in Fiji, adding that her organization was expecting bold commitments from the G-8 leaders.(IHT/Asahi: July 5,2008)

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