SYDNEY - Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga likened the impact of climate change on Pacific island nations to "a weapon of mass destruction" Friday, saying strong global leadership on the issue was needed.
Sopoaga said a UN-sponsored summit on climate change in New York next month was a chance to set the scene for real progress in the quest to seal a global pact on greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2015.
Otherwise, the people of his low-lying country would be left dying as nations continued to debate what course of action to take, he said.
"We are caught in the middle, effectively, in Tuvalu. We are very, very worried," Sopoaga told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"We are already suffering. It's already like a weapon of mass destruction and the indications are all there... we only need to garner strong collective leadership to address this.
"The people of Tuvalu are going to underscore again (in New York) the message that we are dying." Tuvalu, a scattering of nine coral atolls that is home to about 11,000 people, is one of several Pacific nations threatened by rising seas blamed on global warming.
Many are barely one metre (three foot) above sea level and scientists warn that nations such as Tuvalu, Kiribati and Tokelau could disappear beneath the waves if climate change continues unabated.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called a summit on September 23 to try to build momentum for change ahead of talks in Paris next year aimed at forging a historic climate deal that will take effect in 2020.
Sopoaga, who Ban has invited to co-chair of one of the major meetings at the New York summit, said past climate meetings, such as a UN summit in Copenhagen in 2009, had aimed too low and lacked ambition.
"We have to go to Paris with a commitment to concluding the agreement, nothing less than that," he said.
Sopoaga said countries like Australia, whose conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott has abolished a carbon tax on greenhouse gas emissions, should not try to obstruct a deal.
He said it was time for leaders to put their national interests aside and act for the good of humanity.
"This is no longer to do with political sovereignty, this is threatening human beings," he said. "We are dealing with saving human lives."