From: IPS News
By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 7 , 2010 (IPS) - Faced with rising sea levels, dying coral reefs and decreasing fish stocks, small island developing states (SIDS) are feeling the effects of ocean decline, and they want wealthier countries to do more to ensure the survival of the world’s seas and other waterways.
"We are seeing the threat that fisheries will collapse, the threat of tourism-collapse and the loss of biodiversity," said Rolph Payet, special advisor to the President of the Seychelles.
"Some people think that this is just a simple matter to be brushed aside, and to continue with business as usual, emitting greenhouse gases (GhGs) as usual,'' Payet said. "The data shows us that we should be worried, and we should be acting. In fact we should have acted yesterday," he said.
His comments came at the fifth Global Oceans Conference taking place here at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The May 3-7 meeting has brought together 823 delegates from 80 countries, including many developing nations.
As participants discussed ways to preserve marine biodiversity and improve management of the oceans, small islands reiterated calls they made at last year’s Copenhagen climate change summit for greater cuts in carbon emissions.
Such cuts are necessary to reduce or stabilise rising temperatures and to halt ocean acidification which scientists say is detrimental to marine life. According to statistics from the environmental group Greenpeace, the oceans have absorbed some 70 percent of the "human-created carbon overload" to date, altering the chemical balance of sea water and making it less alkaline, or more "acidic".
"The situation sends shivers up my spine because not many people know the consequences of ocean acidification," said Payet. "It reaches way down and will affect our children’s children."
He said that the Seychelles, an archipelago of more than 100 islands, was also being affected by warmer oceans and rising sea levels, which would cause displacement of people and other social problems. Poor countries, he said, were ill-equipped to deal with these problems.
The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), comprising 42 members and observers, are responsible for only about 0.3 percent of all GhG emissions, but they bear the brunt of the impact on the environment, including the rising sea levels caused by melting ice in the Arctic.
So far, more than 100 states have called for carbon emission cuts that would limit the rise in average temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but most developed countries wish the limit to be kept to 2 degrees.
"We need aggressive mitigation action," said Leon Charles, a representative of Grenada and a lead negotiator for AOSIS. "We need to mount advocacy campaigns and use the power of public opinion."
Even with the current pledges to reduce emissions, science "cannot exclude" a 2-meter rise in sea level from ice sheet losses over the next century, according to Dr. William Hare, of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
The institute has predicted increases in the intensity of tropical cyclones, "widespread mortality" of coral reefs and acidification by carbon dioxide concentration, all of which means bad news for island states.
"The concerns and perspectives of small islands need to be taken into consideration more," Donna Spencer, a spokesperson for the UN-funded, St. Lucia-based Integrating Watershed and Coastal Area Management project (IWCAM), told IPS.
"We’re very vulnerable to climate change, and everything that affects the oceans affects us," she said.
But it is not only sea-related problems that small island states have to deal with. The growing scarcity of freshwater is also a major concern for many. Since late last year, several Caribbean countries have been experiencing severe drought, with limited water for cooking, sanitation and agriculture. The dry spell also affected tourism, with water having to be trucked to hotels for instance, Spencer said.
In addition, ground water stocks are being depleted in some areas, and wells (or aquifers) are falling prey to encroaching seawater.
The problem is one reason that IWCAM and other groups have pushed for freshwater and saltwater issues to be linked at the Global Oceans Conference.
"There really was a divide – with fresh water people over here and saltwater people over there, but we now need to join forces and work together," Ania Grobicki, executive secretary of the intergovernmental Global Water Patnership, told IPS.
She said that about one billion people were facing scarcity of freshwater and that small island states would be among those most affected.
"But people have an amazing ability to adapt, and you can work wonders if you get the political will," Grobicki said.