The Heat Is Online

Pacific Island Nations Consider Suit Against U.S., Australia

Tuvalu seeks help in US global warming lawsuit, Aug. 30, 2002

JOHANNESBURG - The Pacific island state of Tuvalu wants to enlist Caribbean and Indian Ocean nations in a planned lawsuit blaming the United States and Australia for global warming that could sink them beneath the waves.

Finance Minister Bikenibeu Paeniu said this week that Tuvalu, a chain of nine coral atolls whose highest point is just four metres (13 feet) above sea level, expects to be ready to launch formal legal action against both within a year.

"We are fighting a giant," he told Reuters during the Earth Summit in Johannesburg of a plan to take on the United States, the outline of which was unveiled in March. "It is one of the few options we have."

He said he was lobbying other low-lying nations at the World Summit on Sustainable Development join it in lawsuits.

"In the corridors in this conference there are a number of people who have indicated support," he said. "Apart from Pacific islands there are some from the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean."

Australia and the United States, the biggest world polluter, have rejected the Kyoto pact meant to restrict emissions of gases like carbon dioxide which are blamed for blanketing the planet and driving up temperatures.

Higher temperatures could melt the polar icecaps and raise sea levels worldwide, swamping nations like Tuvalu, which is one of the world's smallest states with about 10,000 inhabitants on an area of 27 square kilometres (10 square miles).


Paeniu said that sea levels had so far not risen around Tuvalu's palm-fringed islands but that storms seemed to be becoming more fierce, spraying damaging sea salt onto farmland.

Tuvalu produces rice, breadfruit, bananas and taro, a type of starch-rich root vegetable. Its people also rely on fishing.

"Just before coming here to South Africa was the first time I was scared. I saw waves coming right over the land," he said. "People in some areas were wading up to their thighs."

"I wouldn't rule out people leaving," he said. "But we are not encouraging people to leave because of climate change. "It's our land. It's where we live."

President George W. Bush argued that Kyoto would be too expensive for the U.S. economy and unfair because it excluded developing nations. Australia has also refused to sign up to the pact under which developed states must cut their gas emissions.

Washington says that natural shifts are boosting temperatures and that no amount of restrictions on human use of fossil fuels, like coal, oil or natural gas, could save Tuvalu.

Paeniu said Tuvalu was not targeting nations like the European Union or Japan because they accepted Kyoto.

He said that Tuvalu could not consider following the Dutch example in building dykes around low-lying land to keep out the sea: "It's one idea," he said. "But how would we afford them?"


Sinking Pacific states consider lawsuit over sea level rise

Reuters News Service, Aug. 16, 2002

SUVA - Pacific island nations, most at risk of sinking beneath rising sea levels, chided the United States yesterday for not signing the Kyoto Protocol and urged big aid donor Australia to do more to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Six island states met at the start of the annual Pacific Islands Forum and expressed their grave concern about climate change. The former leader of one of the islands, Tuvalu, predicted the Pacific would submerge his country in 50 years.

The leaders of the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu released a statement saying they "expressed profound disappointment at the decision of the U.S. to reject the Kyoto Protocol".

The statement stopped short of also naming Australia, the region's biggest greenhouse emitter and one of its largest aid donors. Canberra is expected to give more than A$516.4 million (US$278.9 million) in aid to the region in the next fiscal year. Australia also is not a signatory to the

1997 treaty on global warming that limits greenhouse gas emissions.

"We are very sad," Tuvalu Prime Minister Saufatu Sopoanga told a news conference. "Australia is one of our traditional donors...We were actually expecting they would do something concrete

about...making a marked contribution to ensuring that industrialised countries respect and implement the Kyoto protocol," he said.

Sopoanga's nation of about 11,000 people measures just 26 sq km (10 square miles). A string of nine coral atolls, Tuvalu is just five metres (16 feet) above sea level at its highest point.

Tuvalu fears its last palm tree could sink under the Pacific within 50 years.

In March, Sopoanga's predecessor Koloa Talake said Tuvalu might sue the United States and its climate policy sidekick Australia over their failure to ratify the Kyoto protocol.

The Bush administration abandoned the Kyoto protocol in 2001, arguing that it would hurt the U.S. economy. But Bush has put forward a plan aimed at encouraging industries to trim emissions.

Australia released data yesterday showing its greenhouse emissions would rise by about 11 percent by 2010 from 1990 levels, slightly more than its Kyoto target of eight percent. Without the government's actions, however, the emissions would have increased by 22 percent, officials said.

"Australia moved early on domestic greenhouse response and the figures released today provide a new benchmark for climate change action," said a proud Australian Environment Minister David Kemp in releasing the latest greenhouse data in Canberra.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who is attending the Pacific Islands Forum, described the battle against climate change as a great challenge and did not think Australia's concern varied greatly from that of the small island states.

However, he repeated his conservative government's position that Australia would not sign up to Kyoto because the absence of the United States makes it a flawed treaty.