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Copenhagen bureaucracy stymies access to climate funds

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Aug. 4, 2011) – The low-lying Pacific coral island nation of Kiribati says it has been unable to complete a seawall to protect its international airstrip because promised climate change adaptation funds are yet to materialise.

Two years ago, at the Copenhagen climate conference, the international community pledged US$30 billion to help developing countries tackle the effects of climate change.

But authorities in Kiribati say the money is too hard to access.

Tessie Lambourne, Kiribati Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Immigration, says the wall would have protected the runway - and the freshwater lens that exists under it - from storm surges.

"Actually, this seawall was supposed to be 150 metres long, but because of budgetary constraints the funds that we had for this project [we] only managed to get the seawall to 100 metres," she said. "Most of the funds are being channelled through multilateral agencies and international financial institutions. It is very hard to access those funds because of the process involved. And with a small administration, already the bureaucracy here is overworked."

Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Islands Affairs, Richard Marles, has visited the partially completed wall during a visit to Tarawa. This is really the front line of climate change globally," he said.

"We're right at the edge of the runway in South Tarawa, which is the main runway for the country of Kiribati, and erosion has come to within a few metres of the edge of the runway. And this cost about three or four hundred thousand dollars to put just this hundred metres of seawall in place."

Mr Marles was in New York recently when the United Nations Security Council could not agree to list climate change as an international security threat.

He says Australia will continue to push for that recognition.

"If you look at a place like Kiribati... there is nowhere to go," he said. "I mean this place exists at sea level. Sea level rises represent an existential threat to the existence of this country. That's a security issue."

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