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Keep it below 1.5 – impacts of climate change on the Pacific


THE CALLS by Pacific small island developing states to curb emissions and reduce climate change impact are gradually being heard post the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The reality is that some of these islands are headed for total annihilation.

A 2014 United Nations report has locked in a 1.3 meter sea level rise over the next 2,000 years, even if we reduce emissions tomorrow.

This was a conservative estimate and other projections suggest that it may already be too late for some populations.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a 2 meter rise in sea level will see a displacement of close to two million people. This would wipe out atoll nations across the Pacific.

With global temperatures at a record high over the past 14 months, their future seems hopeless.

Extreme weather events such as the increased frequency and stronger intensity of cyclones, extreme and prolonged droughts, ocean acidification, water table contamination by salt water and coastal erosion are all threatening our Pacific people.

In February, the Fiji islands witnessed the strongest ever cyclone in the southern hemisphere with an estimated $US1.4 billion of damage.

As many as 40% of Fiji’s population was affected and many villages are still recovering in the wake of the destruction. Tropical cyclone Zena also wreaked havoc on Tonga and Fiji in April, killing three people. A similar disaster, severe tropical cyclone Pam in 2015, inundated and destroyed two of Tuvalu’s islands.

In his remarks to the UN in New York, Tuvalu’s envoy, Sunema Pie Simati, said the country has lost four islands since 2000.

Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Kiribati have recently faced similar disasters and the terrifying consequences have lead to redefining the concept of security in the 21st century.

The 2015-2016 El Nino events affected 2.7 million people in Papua New Guinea, where the government spent more than $US60 million in development funds. This was one of the worst droughts to hit the Pacific. The UN estimated around 4.3 million people in 12 Pacific countries were affected.

The concern of the scattered island nations is existential.

Geographically isolated and scattered over the world’s largest ocean with minimal ability to cope with the impacts of climate change, they are running for their lives. According to the UN’s science panel, a one meter sea level rise will exterminate 15% of the Pacific islands.

So it is important to keep the globe’s temperature within 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial level.

For Pacific island countries and, more importantly, the smaller atoll nations, the stakes are high. To avoid the worst consequences of losing their land, heritage and country it is crucial to not exceed this limit.

The felt changes in the intensity and frequency of tidal surges, storms, droughts, water table contamination, disease spread, bleached coral reefs, coupled with tectonic disasters, are already overwhelming.

We must respect the right to live and exist and to save our future. As stated by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the small islands are a magnifying glass; exposing the vulnerabilities that all countries around the world may face in the future.

Pacific island countries are planting trees to combat climate change. They are moving towards a low-carbon energy future. They are developing policies and strategies to create a conducive environment for research and development.

And they know the world needs to act now because, if it fails to do so, it will condemn our future and the future of everyone on the planet.

Otherwise, in the end, there will be no winner.


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