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US News & World Report Features AOSIS Commentary

on April 22, 2015

[In the midst of U.N. talks over FFD on the road to Addis Ababa, and on Earth Day, the prestigious American news outfit, US News & World Report has published a commentary by Ahmed Sareer about the challenges climate change creates for island nations sustainable development pathways. Click here for full story.]

UNITED NATIONS – Late last month, packing gusts above 180 miles per hour, Typhoon Maysak tore into the Federated States of Micronesia, killing 5 people and demolishing entire villages that were in its path. Just two weeks before, Cyclone Pam killed at least 24 in Vanuatu and demolished as much as 90 percent of the island nation’s building stock. Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands were also battered by the winds.

The disasters, which struck only two years after Typhoon Haiyan left 6,300 dead in the Philippines and three years after Hurricane Sandy left a trail of destruction through the Caribbean before pummeling New York and New Jersey, have called attention to the role climate change plays in creating so-called “super storms.”

While it may not be possible to link any single weather event to global warming, it is widely accepted within the scientific community that rising ocean temperatures and water vapor in the atmosphere are fueling more powerful storms. In fact, according to a United Nations report released earlier this year, climate change has magnified the risks and increased the cost of tropical disturbances around the world.

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on Energy]

For instance, in my country, the Maldives, most of our population lives in coastal zones that are increasingly vulnerable to storm surges due to rising seas, as we tragically experienced during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed 81 people. Meanwhile, Caribbean island nations that lie on the hurricane track are likely to see changes in the frequency and intensity of storms that could result in additional annual losses of $446 million by 2080. And some Pacific island nations face extreme rainfall, cyclones and droughts that could result in losses beyond their total annual government expenditures altogether.

In other words, climate change is impeding sustainable development. Yet the international community has failed to account for these rising costs in its support to vulnerable countries.

Fortunately, we have an opportunity to change course during talks here at the United Nations this week where countries are preparing for a major international development finance conference to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July. If the provision of support does not materialize at that meeting, it will simply not be possible for us to meet our full development potential, particularly in the face of worsening climate impacts.

With this in mind, the Alliance of Small Island States, a coalition of 44 low-lying island and coastal nations on the front lines of climate change, has put forward a number of common sense proposals in light of the new challenges we face.

First, it is essential that U.N. funding mechanisms recognize the unique sustainable development challenges faced by small islands. Our geographic isolation, narrow resource base, diminutive economies of scale and high exposure to environmental disasters demands a response that is tailored to our specific needs.

[READ: The Other Climate Change]

Second, both public and private funding sources must be engaged to deliver the urgent support needed today. Many of us are making significant investments to ensure sustainable development and climate resilience at home, but we should keep in mind that this crisis is not of our own making, which is why developed countries have already committed to take the lead in providing the support so badly needed. These commitments must be honored.

Third, while the impacts of climate change on sustainable development are clear, a distinction must be made between traditional sources of international aid and the support provided as part of the U.N. climate change negotiations. Those efforts are distinct and should not be used as an excuse for double accounting, especially during a time of unprecedented need.

Finally, even as the cost of climate impacts increase, small island states have been forced to contend with declining international aid. Wealthy countries must make good on longstanding commitments to provide 0.7 percent of their gross domestic products to aid. If the July conference fails to deliver, efforts to eradicate poverty, while promoting growth and environmental health, will continue to flounder.

Climate change is making natural disasters more destructive and life more difficult in island nations and many other vulnerable places. The time has come for international development assistance to reflect this reality.

 

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