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Island Nations, With No Time to Lose, Take Climate Response Into Their Own Hands

Island Nations, With No Time to Lose, Take Climate Response Into Their Own Hands

November 17, 2017 @ 12:36 PM
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(The New York Times) BONN, Germany — Fijian singers strumming ukuleles serenade delegates to the United Nations climate talks as they enter the conference hall. A traditional two-hulled sailing craft, or drua, is on display by the entrance to signify that when it comes to rising seas, all nations are in the same boat.

But as two weeks of negotiations on bolstering the Paris agreement draw to a close, island leaders say the décor seems a cruel taunt.

Fiji, a sunny island nation in the South Pacific, is the official host of the climate discussions here in chilly Bonn. But leaders say their hopes that island issues would take center stage have mostly been dashed. Almost none of the measures to help their countries adapt to the impacts of global warming have been resolved, and few delegates say they are hopeful the final hours of talks will bring decisions.

“I’m anxious and I’m fearful,” said Allen Michael Chastanet, the prime minister of St. Lucia. “It can’t be that a prime minister’s only resource is to get down on his knees on the side of a bed and pray.”

From rising seas to the loss of fresh water, islands are among the most vulnerable nations to global warming. Hurricanes, expected to become more ferocious with climate change, pummeled Caribbean island nations into crisis this summer. Irma destroyed nearly every car and building on the island of Barbuda and swelled the population of Antigua overnight as thousands of Barbudans sought shelter. Maria knocked out power across the United States Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and left Dominica in tatters.

“The very thing that makes them wealthy is contributing to our vulnerability,” said Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda. “It’s only fair that they provide some level of compensation.”

But hopes are waning that island nations will see a major increase in financial support to help address the consequences of climate change. So, too, is an effort here to expand ways for nations to adapt to future disasters. Money is not forthcoming here, and President Trump has declared that the United States, historically the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, will exit the Paris agreement.

In the Maldives, in the Indian Ocean, rising sea levels are causing salt water to intrude into underground fresh water supplies. In order to adapt, the country is trying to build rainwater cisterns and new pipe systems to ensure that its people have safe drinking water supplies.

It’s a costly task, and the Maldives was one of the first countries to apply for aid from the Green Climate Fund, which was set up in 2010 by wealthy countries to help poorer nations adapt to climate change. Yet the fund has been slow to start and the country waited two years before seeing any of the promised funding.

By Brad Plumer and Lisa Friedman

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