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Nations gather for oceans talks in Indonesia

world Updated: May 09, 2009 11:28 IST
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Ministers and officials from 70 nations will gather in Indonesia on Monday for talks on protecting the world's oceans and to help set the stage for climate change talks in December.

The five-day World Ocean Conference in Manado city is being touted as a first-of-a-kind meeting on the oceans' role in mitigating climate change and on the consequences of higher temperatures such as rising seas, extinctions and food shortages.

Environment, fisheries and resources ministers are expected to agree a declaration aimed at influencing the direction of the Copenhagen talks scheduled for year end, where nations will gather to hammer out the successor to the expiring Kyoto protocol.

Organisers say they hope to expand the scope of any future climate change agreement to encompass marine environments, on which hundreds of millions of people rely for their livelihoods.

"The conference will be non-binding but it is the highest political level ocean conference done so far," said Indroyono Soesilo, the Indonesian official in charge of organising the event on Sulawesi island.

"If we are able to put oceans into world climate change policies it will be a success for us because it has never happened before."

"Because of global warming we will have sea level rises that will make some island nations disappear, so let's do something about that."

The sidelines of the conference will also see the launch of an international plan to save the Coral Triangle, an underwater ecosystem in Southeast Asia that is half the size of the United States and has been compared to the Amazon rainforest in its biodiversity.

Leaders from the six Coral Triangle Initiative nations - Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, will sign a joint plan to protect the region, home to more than half the world's coral reefs.

But while organisers express optimism over the meeting, scientists say knowledge about the oceans is so limited that not much is known about how they will behave under the influence of climate change or the role they can play in absorbing carbon.

The boosting of ocean research and agreements on international sharing of data are expected to be a part of any conference declaration.

"If you talk about marine carbon issues it's still a long way to go," The Nature Conservancy's Coral Triangle Centre head Abdul Halim said.

"Unless you have at least basic scientific evidence to support your argument it's really difficult for people to argue about."

The conference comes amid a slew of gloomy studies on the possible effects of global warming.

A report in the science journal Nature last month found catastrophic sea level rises of up to three metres are a "distinct possibility" within the next century.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted in 2007 that sea levels could rise by up to 59 centimetres (23 inches) by 2100, drowning low-lying island nations.

Studies predict conference host Indonesia, an archipelago of roughly 17,000 islands, is set to lose many outlying islands, threatening its sea borders with neighbouring countries.