The greatest burden in the global fight against climate change should be borne by the world’s powerful countries, which are also often the leading producers of greenhouse gas emissions, the leaders of several island nations told the General Assembly today.
Addressing the Assembly’s annual high-level debate, the representatives also called on affluent nations to increase their level of spending towards an adaptation fund to help the most vulnerable States adjust their economies and infrastructure to cope with the impact of global warming.
“Obviously we have failed badly as custodians of the planet and its future,” Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sailele Malielegaoi said, adding it was imperative that a successor pact to the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions be devised “that is effective, binding, capable of swift implementation and universally owned and respected by the 192 UN Member States.”
Mr. Malielegaoi called on “those Member States of our Organization in position of world leadership to lead the charge in finding and implementing solutions.”
Winston Baldwin Spencer, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said the collective response to climate change “represents a monumental test of the political will and courage of humanity in general, but especially of the political leaders of the most powerful countries.”
He also urged greater spending on the adaptation fund, noting that small island States were among the most vulnerable in the world – to natural disasters as much as climate change.
“Because of our size and the nature of our primary economic activity, the infrastructure of an entire country can be destroyed by, for example, the passage of a single hurricane,” he said.
Marshall Islands’ President Kessai H. Note echoed the call for increased spending to help small and poor nations adapt.
“While we are committed to playing our part, strong leadership is required by the major industrialized countries,” the President of the Pacific island nation said.
Mr. Note called on the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases to ratify the Kyoto Protocol immediately, warning that his country faced dire consequences unless urgent action was taken.
“I find no pride in having coined the term ‘ecological refugee’ – it is my deepest hope that no one – and certainly no one in the Marshall Islands, will have to bear that title,” he added.
Stephenson King, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, said it was important to work within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) when devising solutions.
Mr. King stressed “that the large producers of greenhouse gases must bear the responsibility for the damage being caused to the global environment, and in particular to the vulnerable countries whose sustainability and very existence are increasingly threatened by their actions.”
The Prime Minister of Mauritius, Navinchandra Ramgoolam, warned that small island States are limited by their lack of resources, institutional capacity and technological know-how in responding to climate change, natural disasters or external economic shocks.
Dr. Ramgoolam said he was confident that the high-level global warming event convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would serve as a catalyst for the major summit on the issue in Bali, Indonesia, in December.
At the same time, he cautioned that responsibilities must be differentiated. “In our approach to finding a global solution to climate change, we should avoid making those who bear the least responsibilities in the greenhouse gas emissions and who are yet the hardest hit, pay the price on the same scale as others who have led to the accentuation in global warming as early as the beginning of the eighteenth century,” he said.
“Mauritius on its part remains committed to the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’.”
Jose Maria Pereria Neves, the Prime Minister of Cape Verde, said climate change has its greatest impact on small island developing States, which are ill-equipped to cope. “If the projections of sea-level rise prove to be true, we will be facing a disaster of unimaginable proportions,” he warned.
Cape Verde, a small archipelago, has been confronted with drought, desertification and “almost uninterrupted dramatic water shortages” for three decades, he said.
He cautioned against excessive talk, advocating instead decisive action. “Most likely, we will have wasted too much time in discussions that had the result of delaying the global acceptance of the problem and, consequently, the formulation of strategies for adaptation and mitigation.”
Although not an island nation, Benin’s Foreign Minister joined in calling for attention to the impact of climate change, particularly desertification.
Moussa Okanla urged efforts to transform patterns of consumption, pointing out that, for example, using solar energy instead of firewood would serve to save numerous hectares of forests that are destroyed annually.
“We must foster a change in mentality in order to achieve a change in behaviour,” he said.