Signed at the Tarawa Climate Change Conference in Kiribati, the Ambo Declaration -- named for the village where Kiribati's Parliament sits -- will be presented at the United Nations-brokered climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico, which begins Nov. 29.
Particularly encouraging, said Kiribati President Anote Tong, is that signatories to the declaration include not only small islands and states -- the vulnerable countries -- but also developed countries in the region, including Australia and New Zealand.
China's signature is considered a triumph, given that Beijing's position "has been one that is very difficult to pin down in terms of the wider negotiations," Tong told Radio Australia.
Other signees are: Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Fiji, Japan, Kiribati, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands and Tonga.
But Tong said he was disappointed that the United States and the United Kingdom chose not to sign the declaration, instead opting for observer status.
"I guess I'm not surprised but I remain disappointed. I would have liked to have seen some firmer commitment … and I think we were all disappointed that they did not come really to discuss but merely to observe," the president told Radio Australia.
Observers say the significance of the Ambo Declaration is that it unites a diverse group of countries ahead of the Cancun meeting. The signees expect Wednesday's declaration to contribute "some positive steps forward" in Cancun, Tong said.
Kiribati, located in the central tropical Pacific Ocean, is comprised of 32 coral atolls and one island. Their combined land mass approximately equals the size of New York City.
In South Tarawa, where about half of the country's population of 100,000 live, the average elevation is 6.5 feet above sea level, with the highest point registering at a mere 10 feet.
That makes the low-lying nation particularly vulnerable to climate change.
Tong said climate change was the greatest moral challenge facing humanity today, pointing to villages in his nation that have been forced to move due to coastal erosion.
"We face unending claims for assistance to rebuild homes and to repair damages by unusually high tides, which we, of course, do not have the resources to do," Tong said.
A study by the Australian National Tidal Center showed that sea levels in Kiribati have averaged a rise of 0.15 an inch a year since 1992.
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