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Climate change “bad boys” must make amends, say Marshall Islands

The US and China need to take urgent action to prevent small islands sinking, says Marshall Islands UN representative

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By Sophie Yeo in Bonn

The US and China should make amends for being the “bad boys” of global carbon emissions, says the UN’s Ambassador to the Marshall Islands.

Speaking at the latest round of UN talks in Bonn, Amatlain Kabua told RTCC that while all countries should contribute whatever they can to a new deal to avert dangerous levels of climate change, the world’s biggest emitters need to be held to particularly tough standards.

“The US and China should see that they’re the worst bad boys around, and everyone knows that, so they should try to make amends,” she said.

China and many other developing countries reject being held to the same standards as the US, since they started emitting fossil fuels much later than other industrialised countries.

But the US insists that a new treaty should be based on a country’s current economic capability, which would require increasingly wealthy developing countries to make big cuts in emissions.

UN talks

UN talks which took place in Bonn this week aimed to move the world one step closer to agreeing a treaty that can be signed off in Paris 2015, and avoid the world tipping into dangerous climate change.

But the process is slow – particularly so for the Marshall Islands, 29 low lying coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean, where residents are already feeling the impact of rising sea levels.

Earlier this month, “king tides” swamped the islands, forcing hundreds to evacuate their homes and move inland to safer parts of the islands. Many are concerned that they may have to leave the islands altogether should climate change get much worse.

“We happen to be the smallest country, and we are feeling the brunt of climate change…We feel everybody must do what they can and should. Nobody’s left behind,” said Kabua.

Despite some constructive discussions over clean energy and “positive” exchanges between ideologically opposed countries, the prospect of a workable text that can be discussed at the UN’s next conference in December this year remains far from sight.

Countries have yet to reconcile some of the most divisive issues, such as whether the new treaty should officially split developed and developing countries into two separate groups with different legal obligations – a battle which could adversely impact the talks in Lima.

“We see the big industrialised countries arguing about who goes first, the US or China, and these are the biggest emitters,” said Kabua, adding: “In the meantime, we’re sinking.”

Procedure

Procedural discussions have also slowed down the process, which Kabua says is especially frustrating, with complaints and interventions from both rich and poor countries stalling real action to tackle climate change.

“For those of us that want to see some kind of action, it made me feel sick to my stomach,” said Kabua.

While the chairmen of the meeting have agreed to start formal negotiations over the draft text itself in June, countries are still at odds on what exactly they should be putting into the new text.

A meeting today saw the Kuwait delegation refer to two dictionaries on how to interpret the word “contribution”.

“The big countries have a bigger role because they have the means, they have the resources. In the Marshall Islands, we have only fish to trade with,” Kabua said.

“We have to do something about our planet Earth.”

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