There are flowers everywhere. Their purples, reds, and whites make for a striking contrast to the more somber sea of navy blue, black, and grey suits of the dignitaries who wear them around their necks. It’s early on a Wednesday morning and as they eat their breakfasts in the United Nations’ New York headquarters, they’re discussing how to ensure that all of their countries survive long enough for them to live out their days after their time in government is done.
The meeting is among the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and their supporters, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. Given their stature on the world stage, it’s one of the few places where their numbers actually matter and their vote counts exactly the same as the United States and other major powers. Gathered together over plates of eggs, diplomats from such states as Barbados and Nauru are discussing how to draw attention to their upcoming meeting on the island of Samoa next year, the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States. All thirty-eight of the members are under threat of becoming a modern day Atlantis, their homes consumed by the rising seas.
Wreathed in a lei himself, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon deviates from his prepared remarks while addressing the group. “I visited the Solomon Islands and Kiribati two years ago,” he says. “I think I am maybe one of the very few world leaders to visit these small islands and saw and understood for myself.” While staying at his hotel on one of Kiribati’s islands as a layover on the way to New Zealand, the South Korean diplomat tells the gathered leaders, he and his wife were both given lifejackets. “Because this island is sinking and the highest point on this island is just three meters high,” he explains, just barely higher than sea-level. Depending on the tide, the waters that surround Kiribati can easily rise above that level, leading cars to have to drive through shallow seawater during these times. “That really gave me a strong conviction that we must address this,” Ban says firmly.
The theme of potential loss is one that will run throughout the General Assembly as the island states make their statements at the temporary podium erect as a substitute while the actual General Assembly Hall undergoes renovation. “Climate change is, without question, the gravest threat to my people’s welfare, livelihoods and general security,” Emanual Mori, the president of Micronesia, told the hall on Wednesday. “When I was a child, my back yard did not flood,” President Tommy Remengesau of Palau echoed, “and we did not have tropical storm after tropical storm pass through our Pacific islands.” Their pleas struggle to cut through the buzz surrounding other, more high-profile, events of the week, especially diplomatic breakthroughs surrounding Iran and Syria.
For the complete article, please see ThinkProgress.