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Cancun climate talks: Island states plead for survival

December 7, 2010 | 11:03 am

Greenpeace baloon

Among the delegates from 190 nations wrestling over international climate agreements in Cancun this week, there is nary a hint of the skepticism over global warming that has surfaced in the U.S. Congress, where oil, coal and other industrial interests have battled climate legislation to a standstill.

Floods in Pakistan, fires in Russia, typhoons in Vietnam, drought in Mexico -- every nation seems to have a tale of climate-related woe.  The most vulnerable nations include the small island states of the Pacific, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, which are threatened by rising seas, stronger hurricanes and fresh water shortages.

Ronny Jumeau, a delegate from the 150-island archipelago of Seychelles, has a message for the United States -- the only major greenhouse-gas emitter which declined to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to limit planet-heating pollution: “If we sink, Manhattan sinks.”

Are the big countries paying attention? “President Obama’s heart is in the right place, but he can’t deliver,” says Jumeau, one of 9,000 diplomats, scientists and technicians negotiating in Cancun.

Many developing nations, such as China and India, have other agendas.  Saudi Arabia has emerged as an opponent of small island initiatives. “The island nations are very aggressive,” says U.N. Foundation President Timothy Wirth, a former U.S. negotiator. But their voices get buried.”

Read more in a Times story about Jumeau and the Alliance of Small Island States, a negotiating bloc of 43 countries which is creating a stir at the Cancun talks.

-- Margot Roosevelt

Photo: A balloon, launched by Greenpeace, rises next to the Chichen Itza ruins in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.  Credit: Greenpeace