Micronesia recently passed a milestone in environmental law by attempting to shut down the Czech Republic's biggest coal plant.
- Emissions from the Czech Republic's biggest power plant are warming the atmosphere and creating higher waves in Micronesia, according to the small Western Pacific country. Pictured: A coal barge near Pittsburgh in the 1970s. (Environmental Protection Agency)
The Federated States of Micronesia, which really needs to spruce up its website, has a new claim to fame aside from sakau, the foul brown glop that Micronesians drink to induce recreational paralysis. It is the first nation to use the court system to try to stop another nation’s fossil-fuel emissions – from halfway around the globe.
Environmental groups talked about this curious story during the Threatened Island Nations Climate Conference in New York this week. Here's the international tussle, in brief:
In January, the teensy island federation in the Western Pacific Ocean asked for a “transboundary environmental impact study” of the Prunerov Power Station, the largest coal plant in the Czech Republic. The lignite-burning plant is Europe’s twelfth dirtiest in terms of CO2 emissions, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s ranking. Most scientists think such emissions are behind the earth's gradually warming climate. Micronesia wanted the Czech government to review its decision to extend the plant's lifespan, arguing that the greenhouse gases it churns out are imperiling the island nation's 111,000 residents.
Did Micronesia have any legal footing here? These transboundary challenges are usually seen between neighboring countries, not by ones separated by a continent and an ocean. But climate change knows no borders, and these are desperate times for islands faced with rising sea levels and an audience of deaf ears belonging to larger, more altitudinous nations.
Micronesia has been on the forefront of the greenhouse-gas mitigation effort, and a peek at its geography shows why. The federation is composed of 600-plus islands. While some of them have hills and mountains, most folks live on the coast. There are already reports of significant coastal erosion from higher waters and strong storms. (Photos.) Residents have had to pack up and move, in some cases with the bones of their relatives taken from coastal graveyards. The president, Emanuel Mori, recently said that for "our islands and other vulnerable states to survive, the overall increase in global temperature must be limited to less than 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.”
Some scientists believe that a rise in the oceans of about 6 feet will occur by 2100 because of melting Arctic sea ice and “thermal expansion,” or the way water volume balloons in higher temperatures. That rise would take a big, wet bite out of the states of Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap. (Check out where the water levels are likely to rise in D.C.) Perhap’s that is why the Czech Ministry of Environment took the extraordinary step of throwing the federation a bone: In April, it ordered the company that runs the Prunerov plant to set aside some money to compensate the “affected state” of Micronesia.
So while they might be wading to their sakau bars in 2100, at least Micronesians will be able to pay for a few extra rounds.