Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can 52 Island Nations Convince the World to Keep Them Afloat?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can 52 Island Nations Convince the World to Keep Them Afloat?

Article excerpt

In many nations, global warming falls low on the policy priority list: a problem too gradual and long-term to warrant immediate political muscle.

But James Fletcher, a government minister from the eastern Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, doesn't have that luxury.

"For some countries, discussions of climate change may be academic, but ... this isn't esoteric for us. It's life or death," says Mr. Fletcher, whose ministry includes sustainable development and energy.

For small island nations spattered across the Pacific, the Indian Oceans, and the Caribbean, climate change is not theoretical, they say, but is measured in miles of coastline lost to rising sea levels and in percentages of GDPs swallowed up by extreme weather events, including hurricanes.

Their officials say the failure of influential nations to respond to global warming and giant storms may be their greatest foreign policy challenge: How can a cadre of tiny islands, many of them sparsely inhabited, compel the global community to enforce the kind of environmental policy needed to keep them afloat?

Leading nations are "always eager to say nice words about climate change, but when it comes to action we're rather much slower," says Abdullahi Majeed, minister of state for the environment and industry in the Maldives. He came to Nairobi last week for a United Nations environmental conference.

"We talk about a carbon footprint and then we all travel from all over the world to come [to these meetings] that don't change anything."

A meteorologist with 40 years of experience, Mr. Majeed has reason to be frustrated. His country - a chain of some 1,200 islands south west of India - is the lowest lying nation on earth, with an average elevation of less than five feet above sea level.

An upscale resort destination with pristine beaches and five- star hotels, many scientists predict the Maldives has less than 100 years before it becomes uninhabitable. …

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