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Evacuation a last option, Pacific Islands told
3:24 pm GMT+12, 20/08/2008, Niue
Evacuation of Pacific islanders from their home islands should be the last resort, if climate change overwhelms them, reiterates the outgoing director of the Secretariat of the Pacific Environment Programme, Asterio Takesy.

Instead, small, low lying nations like Kiribati and Tuvalu, claimed to be the world's first environmental refugees, should 'learn to protect themselves first.'

"Our first line of defence should be to put in place adaptation measures and work with the international community.

"As a responsible citizens of the Pacific, we must take all that we can to protect ourselves first. If we have exhausted everything, then the last resort would be evacuation.

"There are huge implications involved in moving people out of their homes. There is the loss of culture, economic opportunities, where to find a place and to cope with new lifestyle.

"I don't think it is a very encouraging picture. Look around the world and see how refugees are treated, and cared for. It's not a very encouraging picture at all, Mr Takesy said.

But all is not lost. Mr Takesy is optimistic that there is some movement within the political corridors of   the world's largest emitters, like the United States to consider reducing their gas emissions.

"Political will, will be determined by what is happening on the ground, Mr Takesy told regional journalists attending the Pacific Islands Forum Summit in Niue.

"I am sure that the U.S President, George Bush is taking on board the impact of the natural disasters that devastated his country. It's resulting in softening of some position on climate change.

Currently, the U.S emits about 26 percent of the world's carbon output. Any movement by the U.S to ratify the Kyoto Protocol would be huge accomplishment for the globe.

"If the Democrats win the White House and two Houses, there will be a likely chance of the reversal of U.S policies on climate change, Mr Takesy said.

The five percent emission cuts required under the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

Pacific Island Countries must also do their bit to show the international community that they are committed to reducing their emission, however small.

"The Pacific Leaders Forum has been consistent at least for the past five years in highlighting climate change as a priority issue for them, but are we pulling hard enough? History can only judge us for that.

"I hope that at this Forum in Niue, Pacific Leaders will once again issue a strong statement on climate change, especially on the current negotiations for post Kyoto, which many countries are demanding that the five percent greenhouse gas emissions reduction be increased.

Sea levels are expected to rise because of a melting of ice caps and because water expands when it warms. If the entire Greenland ice sheet melted in coming centuries, for instance, sea levels would rise by seven metres, according to scientists.

Many scientists say a 50 cm rise in sea levels could cause a 50 metre retreat of the coastline in low-lying areas.

At the higher end of the forecast, the sea would overflow the heavily populated coasts of countries such as Bangladesh, and cause low-lying island states like the Indian Ocean's Maldives and South Pacific's Kiribati and Tuvalu to disappear.

"It's a matter of survival for us. If our islands go under, we all go under," said President Anote Tong of Kiribati, an advocate for a possible migration scheme for his countrymen.

Two uninhabited Kiribati islands, Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea, disappeared underwater in 1999, according to SPREP and the island of Tepuka Savilivili no longer has any coconut trees due to salination.

A recent United Nations study forecast that some 50 million people could become environmental refugees by 2010, driven from their homes by desertification, rising sea levels, flooding and storms linked to climate change

Source: PACNEWS

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