Climate science 'irrefutable' says Kerry, as Pacific islands urge action

US secretary of state bolsters case for curbing emissions on eve of Pacific Islands Forum to address rising sea levels

The secretary of state spoke on the eve of the Pacific Islands Forum -- where 15 leaders will work to renew global efforts to curb emissions.
Chip Somodevilla/Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pushed the case for immediate action on climate change Monday, as Pacific island nations most at risk from rising sea levels prepared to up the pressure on the world's worst polluters.

"The science is clear. It is irrefutable, and it is alarming," Kerry told delegates gathering for a climate conference in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands.

In a video address from Washington, he added that there was still time to prevent some of the worst impacts of climate change, but that "the people of the Pacific islands know as well as anyone that we also need to prepare communities for the impacts that are already being felt."

Leaders from the 15 Pacific Island Forum (PIF) nations will formally meet Tuesday to finalize the "Majuro Declaration" on climate change -- which aims to reinvigorate efforts to contain global warming by working toward binding agreements to reduce carbon emissions.

The PIF nations include islands states such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, where many atolls are barely three feet above sea level and risk being engulfed by rising waters.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga has described the situation as "dire" and warned that the Pacific needs immediate action, not vague promises to do something a few years down the track.

"We need concrete action on the ground to save Tuvalu, Marshall Islands and Kiribati," he said.

Earlier Monday, E.U. Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard expressed concern that some countries may delay a 2015 deadline for implementing reductions in emissions and increasing reliance on alternative energy sources, "2015 must be taken seriously."

After the declaration is finalized, the forum plans to present it to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the General Assembly meeting in New York at the end of September.

Sea level rise accelerating

A report recently released from the University of Hawaii provided further evidence that sea level rise is a primary factor driving accelerated rates of shoreline change in Hawaii – putting the islands' world-famous beaches, coastal communities and infrastructure at risk.

Results of island-wide study indicate that 78 percent of Maui's beaches eroded over the past century, at an average of over 5 inches per year.

"It is common knowledge among coastal scientists that sea-level rise leads to shoreline recession," stated Dr. Brad Romine, coastal geologist with the University of Hawaii's Sea Grant College Program, in a press release.

The study indicates that sea level rise rates are accelerating – and will probably continue to do so over the coming centuries.

For every one degree Celsius of temperature increase, the world will eventually see a 7.5-feet increase in sea level, another study by a group of scientists led by Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Research predicted.

It forecast that if carbon emissions continue to rise at current rates, temperatures will increase by four or five degrees Celsius in the next century or two – which means sea levels could rise dozens of feet in the centuries to come. He said that the effect of sea level rise on the tropics will be greater than in higher latitudes.

"We simply put expiration dates on certain cultures, on certain societies around the globe. Definitely for some small island states in the Pacific," Levermann said in an interview with Yale's Environment 360 magazine.

The report said the world will see the effects of carbon emissions on sea levels for centuries and even millennia to come, and that reducing emissions now is crucial.

"Once you put a certain amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, you'll have to live with the corresponding warming for a long time … long-term sea level rise will not stop in 2100, but will go on and on for a long time," Levermann said.

Al Jazeera and wire services. With additional reporting by Renee Lewis.

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