Breathing Underwater

“The oceans that once gave us are now threatening to swallow us.”

-The President of Palau

The Opening Ceremony of the High-Level Segment of The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Wednesday spoke strongly to the urgent magnitude of problems faced by nations highly vulnerable to climate change-yet paradoxically, some of those least implicated in its acceleration. Low-lying coastal areas and small island states are particularly at risk of the perils of sea level rise as a consequence of climatic changes.

Of the UN Conference of the Parties (COP) 16 negotiations, Mexican President Felipe Calderόn remarked that “there are billions of human beings who expect a result, a result we cannot fail to deliver.” President Calderόn and the host country of Mexico have gone to great lengths to improve the transparency and inclusiveness of the COP 16 proceedings, and to promote openness in the multi-lateral UNFCCC process relative to COP 15, held in Copenhagen last year. In large respects, they have succeeded in this effort with, particularly the NGO community, noting greater accessibility to negotiations, venues to espouse their positions, and avenues to voice concerns.

Still, in the hallways of the Moon Palace, one can readily hear the murmurs of Delegates and NGOs alike, who feel slighted, left out, or underrepresented within the proceedings. “They don’t hear me,” said President of Narau, speaking on behalf of 14 low-lying Island Developing States, of the negotiators.  He surmised, “negotiators speak in acronyms” deciding the fates of “which {nations} may thrive and which will vanish beneath the waves.”

The President of Guatemala detailed his nation’s experience with a state of national emergency 109 days out of the last year, by stating, “we cannot continue to fill out sentences in a paragraph while we are burying people.” Overwhelmed by deluges of rains and insufficient ability to respond, Guatemala experienced great tolls of climate change this past year-paid for in lives lost-and totaling a price tag nearly ¼ of the total national budget. Another President later echoed a similar point, “for us, it is not about future consequences. We are facing this now….Every day is being paid for by the lives of Africans.”

Opening remarks by the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, cautioned that we are “quickly running out of time to safeguard our future.” This statement is ever more ringing for nations who currently face evacuations of their homelands,such as Tuvalu, or the Maldives, due to rising sea levels. In the words of the President of Palau, “We cannot continue to treat climate change as a negotiation. Climate change is not negotiable.”

Written by JPERRON.

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