As the leaders of the attendant developing and small island nations took their turns at the podium on Monday's United Nations high-level event on climate change, their anger—and desperation—was palpable. And it wasn't because they were only given five minutes to make their statements. (Although, like award winners at the Oscars, there were those who skirted the time limit.)
"It is an irony that the least-developed countries and small island states, which are the least responsible for the climate change, are the worst affected," said Sahana Pradhan, Nepal's minister of foreign affairs. "Industrialized nations have a special obligation to mitigation," she added.
Developed countries owe a "moral and environmental debt" that must be "duly paid" to resolve the inequities by climate change's devastating effects, said President Néstor Carlos Kirchner of the Republic of Argentina. "This has for too long been an unkept promise," he said. "So far efforts have been timid and moved toward failure."Officials spoke of droughts, heat waves, losses in biodiversity, coastal erosion, flooding, and cyclones—events that now recur with "relentless regularity," according to Fakhruddin Ahmed, chief advisor of Bangladesh. He described his country and others as being "on the threshold of a climatic Armageddon," a phrase we're surprised hasn't been picked up on more.
But developing nations, many of them overwhelmingly poor, have little means to deal with global warming, underlining what is proving to be a growing climate divide between the haves and the have-nots. The planet's most vulnerable regions called for a transfer of technology, experience, and resources from richer, developed countries, as well as leadership from the developed world, especially at December's climate talks in Bali, Indonesia (or what we've taken to calling Kyoto 2: Climate Boogaloo).
"The sad reality is that small developing island states can only do so much to improve their resilience against the impacts of climate change," said President Emanual Mori of the Federate States of Micronesia, after detailing a national "climate-proofing" infrastructure development framework that is underway. "For them, any adaptation measures may very well be desperation measures. For an atoll island, just a few meters above sea level and surrounded by the sea, how does one build its resilience against sea-level rise? It would be very costly, and very impractical to build sea walls around every island in Micronesia."