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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (July 5, 1999 - Marianas Variety)---When officials from nearly 40 small island countries meet in Majuro July 12-15, they will never be more than 100 meters (330 feet) from the ocean that many worry will begin flooding these tiny islands in the next century.

The meeting of the Association of Small Islands States (AOSIS) in the atoll capital of the Marshall Islands aims to focus international attention on sea level rise and sustainable development action that can be taken to reduce the threat to islands such as the Marshalls, whose highest point is less than two meters (6.6 feet) above sea level.

Few of these islands are more than 200 meters (660 feet) wide at any given point, and in most islands it is possible to stand in the middle of the island and throw a rock into the ocean on one side and into the calm lagoon on the other.

Marshalls Foreign Secretary Marie Maddison hopes that the meeting will also get people in the Marshall Islands to focus more attention on the future problem of sea level rise. "The Marshall Islands is a low lying country," she said. "We should be most concerned (about sea level rise)."

The Micronesian Chief Executives, at their April meeting in the Marshall Islands, put a high priority on sea level rise because of the vulnerability of islands. "I hope that this meeting will focus the attention of people in the Marshalls as well as international attention to the needs of small islands," she said.

Close to 100 people from all parts of the world are expected to attend this gathering in Majuro, which will include discussions on implementing the plan of action to begin reversing the greenhouse effect adopted at the international climate change meeting held in Kyoto, Japan two years ago.

"The workshop will be the first step in a long term process to operationalize the clean development mechanism of the Kyoto protocol in such a way that small island developing states benefit, as well as ensuring climatic protection," said Marshalls U.N. Ambassador Jackeo Relang.

Renewable energy is a high priority for most of the small islands. Participants in the Majuro meeting will look at "how to harness renewable energy in the fight against global warming," Relang said.

"It is timely and appropriate to have it here," Maddison said, adding that holding the conference on an atoll takes the hazards of climate change and sea level rise from an abstraction to reality. The meeting will provide insight into "how vulnerable we are, what we should be worried about and what we should start doing (about sea level rise)," she said.

"I hope what is learned from the meetings leads to a well targeted, focused plan of action, she said. Small island countries "are pooling their resources and becoming more assertive" on the international scene in relation to climate change and actions needed to limit the impact she said, adding that the four-day meeting will increase pressure on industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are responsible for the earth’s warming.

While the small islands have been demanding action from industrialized nations on the basis that the small islands will be the first to feel the consequence of sea level rise, Maddison said it isn’t only island nations that will suffer if the sea level rises.

"California and New York have many coastal and low lying areas," she said. "If the sea level rises, what will happen to them? They will be in the same situation as the islands.

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