Spare a thought for Tuvalu

The way it’s told isn’t so great, but this account of what’s happening in the tiny archipelago nation of Tuvalu indicates one of the more significant externalities associated with our enthusiasm for fossil fuels. The country is, as you probably know, in very serious danger of being swamped by higher seas as more water runs from glaciers on land into the oceans. The highest point in Tuvalu is only a few feet above sea level.

The Tuvaluan government has been vocal in urging industrialised nations to take urgent action on climate change. Enele Sopoaga, the former permanent representative of Tuvalu to the United Nations, in an earlier interview with IPS expressed extreme frustration at “the double standards of industrialised nations” for inaction on climate change while criticising other countries about human rights policies “while they are playing with the lives of island people and the Inuit” — referring to the native peoples of the Arctic Circle, whose traditional livelihoods are being destroyed by global warming.

In our system, there’s nobody for the people of Tuvalu to go after, no way for them to do it, but their lives and property are nevertheless being threatened in quite a direct way by every kilo of carbon dioxide the rest of us put out. It’s not right.

That said, I don’t have much time for the sentiment expressed here:

Although it is likely to become the first nation of environmental refugees, because Tuvalu has virtually no greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy projects there do not qualify for Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) funding. CDM is a market mechanism created by the Kyoto Protocol that allows polluters in one country to earn “carbon credits” by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in another.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on CDM projects around the world, but not a penny for Tuvalu, said [scientist Sarah] Hemstock, who found this situation “appalling”.

But tradeable credits aren’t meant to be economic-development tools. They might have that effect, but that’s not the point. They’re supposed to be ways for people in richer countries to pay for easy carbon-emissions reductions in places where the locals can’t afford to. No emissions, no credits.

Which isn’t to say that the people of Tuvalu aren’t entitled to some help, but they’re also not entitled to pervert the CDM system, which is troubled enough as it is.

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