Cancun: islands in the climate storm
If Pacific islands are being washed away due to climate change-induced floods, how come land prices are stable?
According to environmental activists, the Cancun climate negotiations may be the last chance to save the Earth. Most politicians agree. But what do the markets say?
This question has haunted me since I attended the previous summit to save the Earth, namely the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in freezing cold Copenhagen a year ago.
The loosely worded accord that anti-climaxed the Copenhagen summit was a bitter disappointment to many in the developing world. The Sudanese ambassador compared it to ‘asking Africa to sign a suicide pact’. He also claimed Western inaction was tantamount to genocide by climate change.
The prime minister of Tuvalu, Apisai Ielemia, said rich Westerners were allowing his nation to perish. He showed a group of journalists, me among them, a video of floods that threaten to wash his tiny Pacific island nation to the sea.
While some Sudanese hyperbole is to be expected at UN conferences, surely the Pacific island nations should be listened to. It’s one thing to dispute obscure points of aquatic physics sitting comfortably in your office, but the people of Tuvalu are apparently on the frontline of climate change.
After showing the film, Ielemia took questions from journalists who were clearly shocked by the footage. I, too, got a chance to ask a question of the accommodating prime minister.
‘Mr Prime Minister. In view of the impending deluge, how much have land prices fallen on Tuvalu?’ I stammered.
For some reason my question completely silenced the room packed with environmental press. After what I will charitably call an inquisitive stare, the prime minister gave his longwinded answer full of long-term projections of rising ocean levels. To be fair, he concluded with a simple declaration: ‘Land prices have not been affected.’
This baffles me. The Tuvaluans have experienced the very floods Ielemia had just shown us. If the ocean is encroaching the island, surely it would make sense to sell all your land, at any price, while you still have some. This should cause a dramatic drop in land value as the market gets flooded (no pun intended).
But no, land prices are stable.
The story gets even more baffling when one looks at the Maldives. Remember, this is the tiny nation in the middle of the Indian Ocean where the government held an underwater cabinet meeting in November 2009 to emphasise the imminent peril of climate change-induced rises in the ocean levels. But in the Maldives, too, land prices are holding.
Indeed, land is selling for as much as one million Euros per hectare, comparable to the finest vineyards of the hilly and deluge-safe Champagne region of France.
These prices are ridiculous considering that the best informed party, the government, says everything will soon wash away.
Who says markets can’t be wrong?
At least we have learned something after Copenhagen. There is very little chance of freezing temperatures in Cancun.
Eero Iloniemi is managing editor of the Finnish weekly newspaper, Nykypäivä