Sunday, August 09, 2009


Global Post - The highest hill in the island nation of Tuvalu reaches just 15-feet above sea level. Built on a scattering of low-lying coral atolls, it wouldn't take much of a rise in sea levels to put much of its territory underwater.

Worse yet, there is little the nation's 12,000 inhabitants can do to head off such a catastrophe - one that is ever more likely with the impending threat of climate change. . .

Yet the tiny Polynesian nation is taking on the challenge of mitigation anyway. Eight years after the country's president petitioned its neighbors to commit to accept its citizens as environmental refugees, Tuvalu announced last month it plans to cut its carbon output to zero, switching all of its electricity production to renewable sources by 2020.

"We look forward to the day when our nation offers an example to all - powered entirely by natural resources such as the sun and the wind," Kausea Natano, the country's public utilities minister, said in a statement. (Currently, one American produces the same amount of greenhouse gases as 50 of the islands' resident.)

Tuvalu's case is representative of the problems faced by poor countries all over that find themselves vulnerable to climate change. Whether threatened by rising sea levels (small island nations, low-lying Bangladesh), at risk of succumbing to drought (East Africa, parts of Latin America) or simply likely to be hit harder by natural disasters (the whole world), these nations find themselves in jeopardy without being able to do much about it.

When in 2001 Tuvalu declared that it would most likely have to evacuate, its government stopped short of making a formal petition. Last summer, however, the neighboring nation of Kiribati made an official request for help in evacuating its 100,000 citizens, and the Maldives have since announced it was establishing an investment fund in hopes of being able to buy land for its 300,000 residents when it too succumbs to the waves.

In Bangladesh, where 150 million people crowd into a country where most of the land is at or just above sea level, officials see a direct correlation between the greenhouse gases emitted by people in rich countries and their responsibility for the fate of Bangladesh's citizens.

The country's leading climate change expert, A. Atiq Rahman, the executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, likes to joke that people in the rich world should make up for their greenhouse gases by taking in environmental refugees, hosting one Bangladeshi family for every ten thousand tons of carbon emitted.