Today as we mark World Environment Day (WED) 2014, the maxim “we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children” is worth reflecting on! I find it both inspirational and tragic – inspirational in the sense that each one of us has a responsibility to preserve and protect our environment for ourselves and the future generations, and tragic because so many of us are still acting selfish, shortsighted and slow in action, yet there is no time!
This year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is calling on us to raise our voices and continue creating awareness on the impact of climate change on small islands states around the world.
Why focus on the Small Islands States?
According to the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), there are 44 small islands states, drawn from all oceans and regions of the world – Africa, Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Pacific and South China Sea – constituting 5% of the global population.
The unique situation of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) was acknowledged at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, in that although SIDS are among the least responsible of all nations for climate change, they are likely to suffer strongly from its adverse effects and could in some cases even become uninhabitable, if no appropriate action is taken. This makes them such a special case requiring the help and attention of the international community. In actual fact, governments have agreed that concerted action is needed to address SIDS development for the sake of future generations.
According to the 2005 UNFCCC Report, “small island developing States share certain characteristics that underscore their special vulnerability to climate change, climate variability and sea-level rise – for example many have a high concentration population, socio-economic activities, and infrastructure along the coastal zone; they are highly susceptible to frequent and more intense tropical cyclones (hurricanes) and to associated storm surge, droughts, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions; they are more dependent on water resources for freshwater supply that are highly sensitive to sea-level changes; they have insufficient financial, technical and institutional capacities, seriously limiting the capacity of SIDS to mitigate and adapt to any adverse impacts of climate change etc.”
So, How Do We Raise Our Voices?
The year 2014 has been designated by the UN as the International Year of Small Island Developing States , presenting a historic opportunity to mobilize global action and partnership in support of SIDS.
Again, in September (1st to 4th), the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States will be held in Apia, Samoa, and will seek to among other things to galvanize genuine and durable partnerships for action on issues such as climate change, oceans, waste, sustainable tourism and disaster risk reduction.
Last month, the UN Secretary General cited examples of climate action by SIDS who are helping to point the way to a sustainable future. These actions include the Pacific Islands which is demonstrating real global leadership in transiting to a new era in energy use and production, Tokelau has become the first territory in the world to generate 100 per cent of its power from renewable energy, while the government of Fiji, is demonstrating its commitment to support sustainable energy for all through concrete actions.
Ahead of the famed Ban Ki-Moon Climate Summit to be convened in New York on the 23rd September 2014, the US and China, two leading greenhouse gas emitters, have recently announced that they too are stepping up their climate action plans as we move towards a new international climate agreement in 2015. As the Co-Chair of the IPPC Working Group II, Chris Field notes, “fundamentally, the challenge of managing climate change is a challenge of managing and reducing risk. We know plenty, but we need a transition from the perspective of knowing lots to doing lots.” We truly need political will, as well as real climate actions.
But let’s forget the governments, the corporations, the UNs etc….you and I have a responsibility to do something for our immediate environment. It may look small and insignificant but with time will grow into a large-scale action that can be replicated by others within our circles of influence. So, as Doug Stuart challenges us in his blog Climate Change: Another Perspective, the greatest impact we can have on climate to correct the imbalance, to heal our Mother Earth, is to change our own thinking (and actions), to change the microclimate of ourselves and radiate out in healing waves to correct the macroclimate. Each of us has the same power and the same responsibility. After all, isn’t that what the late Nobel Laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai meant when she narrated the story of the humming bird?
Rachel Kagoiya, Information Manager at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org