Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Indian Ocean Islands Call on Rio+20 to Focus on Climate Change

“Islands are the barometers of international environmental policies. The entire world will first witness their success or their failure on our islands.” These words, of James Michel, the President of Seychelles, deserve to be spoken out loud as delegates from small island developing States (SIDS) gear up to defend their interests at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20).

SIDS serve as the guardians of a "planet under pressure," whose point of no return is unknown. These concerns are central to the activities of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), the only African intergovernmental organisation made up entirely of islands. At Rio+20, IOC will voice the views of its Member States, namely: Comoros, France/Reunion, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles. IOC will highlight the specific vulnerabilities faced by these islands and advocate for the international community to grant them special and differential treatment.

Chaired by Seychelles since January 2012, the IOC will count on the leadership and determination of James Michel in Rio to deliver his message to participating nations. In February 2012, at the Delhi Summit on Sustainable Summit, Michel expressed his disappointment with the international community for its inaction on climate change, 20 years after the first Rio Summit. He further emphasised the interlinkages between two of the major challenges of this century, namely sustainable development and climate change.

Whatever crises or uncertainties we now face, there is no more time for words. All the lights have turned red and the cost of inaction is growing. Our island nations are already dealing with the impacts of climate change. The fragile balance of our ecosystems, known for their extraordinary wealth, has already been weakened by often poorly-adapted development. Our vulnerable economies are also under threat, and our efforts to achieve sustainable development and fight against poverty risk to be undone.

In Madagascar, for example, the number of violent cyclones almost tripled between 1975 and 2004. It also appears that, globally, the frequency of these intense cyclones is rising. For the ‘Big Island,’ which is among the top ten countries in the world most vulnerable to cyclones, this trend is particularly worrying as 65% of its population live along the coast and post-cyclone socioeconomic recovery takes an average of five years. The other impacts of climate change include the effect of coral bleaching on marine biodiversity, the threats to food security and increased water scarcity. More

by: Callixte D'Offay, Secretary-General of the Indian Ocean Commission