Small islands will not accept weak Paris climate deal – official

Maldives climate ambassador wants commitment to 1.5C warming goal, more finance and action on loss and damage 

Many of the Maldives islands are at risk from rising sea levels (Pic: Nattu/Flickr)

Many of the Maldives islands are at risk from rising sea levels (Pic: Nattu/Flickr)

By Ed King

Small island states have not given up hope of a global climate deal that restricts warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, a senior negotiator representing the Maldives has told RTCC.

Maldives ambassador Ahmed Sareer, who recently assumed the presidency of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) at UN climate talks, said the future of his country depended on an ambitious deal in Paris later this year.

“1.5C is still within reach… it’s clear that science has shown this is possible,” he said in an interview from Geneva, where negotiations are taking place this week.

Governments agreed to limit warming to 2C in 2009, but the more ambitious goal of 1.5C has long been advocated by small islands, fearful rising sea levels and climate-linked extreme weather events could submerge their countries.

The goal is still one of many proposals for a Paris agreement, referenced in the general objectives section of the draft text under discussion, as well as a document detailing what level of carbon cuts countries should collectively aim for.

Scientists say less than 1,000 gigatonnes of CO2 (GTCO2), or about 30 years of emissions, can be released from burning fossil fuels before warming of over 2C is locked into the earth’s system.

Report: Vast draft text won’t derail Paris talks, says UN climate chief 

Made up of 44 states and observers, some AOSIS members already face a daily battle against climate-related impacts, said Sareer, making these talks a personal battle for their delegates.

“You have countries already looking at relocation – in the Maldives we have erosion taking place, weather events and biodiversity being affected – the coral is in danger,” he said.

“These are things we are seeing on a day to day basis – other countries may not have the same level.”

Last June, the president of Kiribati said it was “too late” to save many islands from rising sea levels, warning of “total annihilation” for Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and the Maldives.

Pushed on the lack of ambitious carbon cuts currently on the table, Sareer said he hoped the efforts by some small islands to ditch fossil fuels and invest in wind, solar and marine energy systems could serve as an example to developed and developing countries at UN talks.

In the past year the Cook Islands, Niue, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Aruba, Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, St Lucia, and the Maldives all announced plans to be 100% renewable by 2020.

“Small island states are spending heavily on renewable energy, and we want to send the message that if we can do it then other countries should be able to do so,” he said.

“They have more resources. That should be the way forward.”

Comment: Exclusion of ‘loss and damage’ would make Paris deal useless

Discussions on what carbon cuts larger economies could consider will likely drag on throughout the year, although the EU, US and China have already indicated what targets they will pitch for by the end of the next decade.

This week in Geneva UN talks have focused on the construction of a negotiating text that all countries can agree on – resulting in a vast set of proposals.

These will have to be whittled down at a series of planned sessions between now at December, a process Sareer described as a “challenge”, although he added he was “optimistic”.

But he stressed the need for Paris to deliver a broad, legally binding agreement that would offer developing countries assurances they would receive significant help to cut emissions and adapt to changing conditions.

In particular, he said he needed more evidence of progress towards the $100 billion by 2020 in green aid promised by industrialised counties in 2010.

And he also confirmed the group’s commitment to ensuring the concept of loss and damage, or climate compensation, is enshrined at the heart of any agreement.

“We are a vulnerable group and need to be given thought when the parties come up with their positions,” he said.

“You can’t only look at an agreement that is mitigation – if it leaves out adaptation, finance and loss and damage. It has to be a package and fully consider all these components… for us it is an existential threat.”

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