Island Countries Propose Further Strengthening to Delay Sea-Level Rise

May 23, 2008

FSM Department of Foreign Affairs

Micronesia 15 May 2008 - Today the Federated States of Micronesia and Mauritius submitted formal notification to the 191 Parties to the ozone treaty, known as the Montreal Protocol on Substance the Deplete the Ozone Layer, urging new measures to strengthen the treaty at the Parties' next meeting in November. The target: emissions from old refrigerators, air conditioners in cars, homes, and office buildings, as well as foams and other products and equipment that contain chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's) and related chemicals.

Without controls on these emissions, the world's junk yards, dumps, and landfills-not mention yards and basements-will emit more than 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2015 from these chemicals, which cause double damage by destroying the stratospheric ozone layer, and trapping heat that is warming the Planet. In comparison, the Kyoto Protocol, the world's primary climate treaty, is seeking the reduction of 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent between 2008 and 2012, with diminishing prospects for achieving this modest target. With the Kyoto Protocol struggling, and the negotiations on a post- Kyoto climate treaty not expected to finish until December 2009 at the earliest, Micronesia, Mauritius, and other low lying islands and coastal countries are looking for other ways to get fast climate mitigation. The Montreal Protocol is a key fast-acting strategy.

The central concern of low-lying island and coastal countries is the threat of sea-level rise from melting glacier and ice sheets, as well as thermal expansion of the oceans. Sea-level rise of several meters could come this century if summer ice in the Arctic continues to melt at its record rate. Loss of this ice and its ability to reflect heat back into space eventually will set off other feedback mechanisms that will accelerate the disintegration of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which will cause up to 7 meters of sea-level rise. Greenland's ice sheet doesn't have to melt to do this. If the surface melts and percolates to the bedrock where the ice rests, this lubrication will make it easier for gravity to pull the ice sheet into the ocean, according to experts on glacier dynamics.

Last year Micronesia and Mauritius worked with Argentina, Brazil, the US, and European countries to strengthen the Montreal Protocol and turn it explicitly into a climate treaty. Their proposals, ultimately agreed by all 191 Parties, speeds up the phase out of HCFC's, a substitute for CFC that itself was damaging both the ozone layer and the climate system. The climate benefit of last year's successful proposal is a powerful 16 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent-several times the mitigation Kyoto seeks.

"Climate change is about our very existence-our existence as a country-a country with rich traditions that since time immemorial have helped unite our generous and peaceful people into a unique and successful society," said Ambassador Masao Nakayama, Permanent Ambassador of The Federated States of Micronesia to the United Nations in New York. "We now must ask ourselves, 'How long will our country, and our culture, continue to exist?'" Micronesia and Mauritius are representative of all vulnerable countries around the world, including those in the Alliance of Small Island States, and the many other low-lying coastal countries that face the growing risk of extinction from abrupt climate change and the sea-level rise that it will cause. Ambassador Nakayama added. "Immediate, 'faststart' mitigation is the best adaptation strategy, and if we get started today, we can buy precious time to avoid passing the tipping points for abrupt climate change."

The abrupt melting and eventual disintegration of Arctic, Greenland, and Antarctic ice is "non-linear," and will occur when the climate system passes a tipping point by putting too many greenhouse gas pollutants into the atmosphere. Ambassador Nakayama explained, "A non-linear tipping point is like the final step we take as we walk off a cliff. Once we take that step, we are not able to go back. It is irrereversible."

Mr. Sateeaved Seebaluck, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Environment for Mauritius, add, "We know we getting close to the point-of-no-return for abrupt climate change from the melting of the Arctic Ice and disintegration of the Greenland Ice Sheet, and we know that one of the best ways to slow this down is to strengthen the Montreal Protocol."

"We also can slow down climate change by attacking black carbon, or soot, which is killing millions of people around the world every year," said Mr. Seebaluck. He added that "other fast start mitigation strategies can target other man-made chemicals, including HFC's, SF6, and PFC', which are included in the Kyoto Protocol."

One leading climate scientist at NASA, Dr. James Hansen, calculates that the tipping point for abrupt climate change and devastating sea-level rise could be as close as ten years away. When we cross it, we will be irreversibly committed to up to 7 meters of sea-level rise in the coming decades, perhaps at the rate of to 1 meter per decade.