Arctic & Small Islands Fight Climate Change

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.

Suddenly, reality strikes.

You’re a lifelong resident of an island in the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean, and you’ve got 10 days of drinking water left.

“The rains should have started. They’ve failed,” said the Seychelles Ambassador to the United Nations, Ronny Jumeau. “It’s never been this bad – it’s climate change that’s compounding it.” Climate change is disrupting weather patterns around the world, Jumeau said.

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, told listeners. Some looked stunned.

Arctic homes are falling into the ocean. Climatic change is disrupting the patterns of the caribou, the seals, and polar bears. “When we open our front door, those are our supermarkets,” Cochran said. “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 said.

Coastal communities in the Arctic and in the Small Island Developing States face many of the same challenges the rapidly changing climate is bringing to bear. The impact on coastal zones is the common denominator that has brought this group of 20 Arctic and SIDS together.

Both regions rely on the environment and natural resources for their livelihoods. Both have a wealth of indigenous and local knowledge that can be used, and shared with other communities as they face the challenges of a disrupting climate.

Their alliance, Many Strong Voices promotes three interconnected objectives: Research, capacity building, and communication. It works to link local knowledge and scientific research into their community adaptation planning, and focuses on the well-being, security and sustainability of their coastal communities, and tells their stories to the world.

The MSV’s Cochran, Jumeau, Kirk Ejesiak of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, and Margaret Wewerinke, representative to the U.N. for North-South XXI and the U.N. Human Rights & Climate Change Working Groupspoke in Cancun, Mexico, site of this year’s U.N. climate summit that runs through Dec. 10. Representatives from 193 world governments are there 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,” Cochran said. “Even though they have palm trees, and we have ice.”

Jumeau said his people have as much at 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 U.N. 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 said.

He said 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 whose existence is threatened, and regions to adapt.

“But where’s the money?” Jumeau asked. “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. 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 increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the ocean.

The scientific consensus is that carbon dioxide, or CO2 generated from man’s combustion of fossil fuels and the burning of vegetable matter is causing global temperatures to rise. 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.”

For more information visit Many Strong Voices online or on Facebook.

Environmental reporter Terri Hansen covered the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Cancun, Mexico, from November 29–December 10 thanks to a U.S. 2010 Climate Media Fellowship awarded by the Earth Journalism Network.