Tensions at Copenhagen—Island Nations Urge Immediate Action

Pacific Islands Map - Tuvalu Island

Pacific Islands - Tuvalu Island

In the 1959 film, “The Mouse That Roared,” a small country facing serious economic woes decides to enact its own economic recovery by declaring war on the U.S., purposely losing and receiving foreign aid money in compensation.

In a real-life move this week in Copenhagen, the tiny island nation of Tuvalu is pushing for an aggressive climate change mitigation plan from the U.S. and the rest of the world. However, unlike the film, the core issue is not simply economic recovery, but survival.

Of all the countries in the world, Tuvalu is among the smallest in terms of land mass, yet one of the first to suffer from the effects of climate change. A proposal made by Tuvalu, and supported by the other small island nations, seeks to push the Copenhagen negotiations into an immediate legally binding agreement.

To fully explain all of the issues surrounding this proposal would take this blog entry down the path of becoming a novel, and not a short one but one of those long serious Russian novels. In its most simplistic terms, many countries feel that in Copenhagen only a political agreement is possible. This political agreement would provide a path toward an eventual legally binding agreement.

However, delay in the legally binding agreement could mean a delay in action, which is unacceptable to many countries, especially those whose survival is dependent on such an agreement. Tuvalu is fighting this notion and pushing for a legally binding agreement now. Therefore, the negotiations have come to an impasse, as the chairs of various committees involved try to reconcile these differences and move the process forward.

Over the past year, the U.S. has made significant progress in the climate discussion, not only as a full participant in negotiations, but also in what they have brought to the table. However, eight years of inaction is a lot to make up in such a short timeframe. U.S. participation is paramount to a successful new agreement, but as Congress continues to wrestle with domestic climate legislation, the U.S. is limited in what it can propose in Copenhagen. Therefore, a key argument for a political agreement in Copenhagen is to allow the U.S. more time.

Unfortunately, any delay in action means the effects of climate change will be more severe. For Tuvalu and the other small island nations, more time is not an option they can live with.

COP15_conferenceThe goal of the Tuvalu proposal is to find a way to craft a legally binding agreement in Copenhagen that includes U.S. commitments, which in turn should spur greater ambition from all countries.

As the negotiators work overtime struggling with this proposal, one thing is clear: Tuvalu and all of us need the U.S. to lead, to step outside of its comfort zone and support the premise of a Copenhagen deal that will lead to immediate action in stemming the effects of climate change and adapting to the changes already set in motion.

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