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PRESS RELEASE February 23, 1999


New research backs calls by small island states for the strongest possible commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The research, carried out by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) for the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), shows that human emissions up to 1995 have already built an inevitable 5-12 cm sea-level rise into natural systems. This increase would peak in about 2020-2025.

Consistently rising emissions mean the likely eventual rise in sea level will be considerably greater. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that if current emissions continue, sea levels will rise by 15 - 95 cm by 2100. The CSIRO research shows that the longer the world waits before making substantial cuts in emissions, the greater the resulting global warming and sea-level rise will be.

Mr. Gerald Miles, head of SPREP's Environmental Management and Planning division, said a number of developed countries wanted to wait before reducing their emissions, arguing that future technological developments would make reductions easy.

"This CSIRO research shows that even if all countries met their Kyoto Protocol commitments and if technology then made it possible to cease all human emissions after 2020, small island states, some of them a mere 1.5 meters above sea level, would face much more pronounced sea-level rise, from 14-32 cm, peaking in about 2050," Mr. Miles said.

"As the CSIRO notes, at present a complete halt in human emissions from 2020 appears impossible. Therefore the vulnerability of hundreds of small islands and their unique cultures and biodiversity will be increasingly at risk as the next millennium proceeds."

The CSIRO says latent sea-level rise already built into natural systems by past emissions has the potential to threaten all regions where coastal impacts are currently marginal to severe. "By 2020 the amount of latent sea-level rise may be sufficient to increase the vulnerability of regions where impacts are currently infrequent or not particularly severe, and to increase the severity of impacts in areas currently under threat," the CSIRO report says.

Mr. Miles said it was important to recognize that it took decades or centuries for warmer temperatures to be absorbed by the oceans, which then expanded with the extra warmth, raising sea levels. "This report underlines the urgent need for committed action to cut emissions to levels recommended by the world's climate scientists," he said. "Small islands are in the front line, and the longer countries delay committed action, the greater the risks for small island states."

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