Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd joined Pacific island nations Tuesday in a call for immediate help to cope with the impact of climate change in the region.
The appeal came on the first day of a summit of regional leaders on the tiny island state of Niue, with leaders saying the impact of climate change was already being felt in the islands, many of which are low-lying coral atolls.
"For many of our Pacific Island neighbours, climate change is a current and unfolding threat to their physical survival," Rudd told reporters in Niue.
"Pacific island countries are saying to the countries of the world -- including Australia, including the United States, including the Europeans, including the Chinese and the Indians -- that the time for action, concrete action over climate change is now."
The outgoing chairman of the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum, Tongan Prime Minister Feleti Sevele, expressed frustration that expected rises in sea levels and increasing storms as a result of climate change were not being addressed.
"Tuvalu has been crying out about the dire effects of climate change and rising sea levels but nothing concrete, nothing tangible has been done to mitigate the problems that they encounter," Sevele told the opening of the leaders' summit.
Coral atoll nations such as Kiribati and Tuvalu are particularly vulnerable because their highest point of land is only two to three metres (yards) above sea level.
Scientists disagree on the likely impact of rising sea levels, but island countries say they are already being affected by increasing extreme weather events such as cyclones and the loss of fresh water supplies because of pollution by sea water.
The incoming chairman of the forum and the chairman of the forum's grouping of small island states, Niue's Premier Toke Talagi, said Pacific countries had problems accessing promised funds to alleviate climate change problems.
"There appears to be this concept that climate change is something that is happening out there (in the future), but it is impacting countries in the region now, especially the small island countries."
The calls for action coincided with the United Nations announcing it would team up with the Pacific country of Samoa to establish an Inter-Agency Climate Change Centre.
The centre would help coordinate support to Pacific Island countries to combat the impact of global warming in their region.
In a message to the forum Tuesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the new agency would focus its support on mitigating the effects of climate change on the Pacific islands.
"I am very heartened that the Pacific island countries are making their voices heard on the subject of climate change," Ban said.
"Climate change is not science fiction. As your countries know all too well, it is real and present," he added.