By Pacific Scoop news desk
While New Zealand’s prime minister John Key hesitated over whether he ought to attend the Copenhagen leaders’ summit meeting on climate change, finally deciding it is worthwhile today, other leaders from the region have been determined to have their voices heard.
Australia’s prime minister Kevin Rudd will attend the Copenhagen meeting and has committed Australia to help small nation states cope with the effects of global warming. Although his legislative plan has stalled with Australia’s parliament divided on how to reduce its carbon emissions from between five and 20 percent on 2005 levels by 2020.
But most significant perhaps is the commitment of leaders from small Pacific island states, people like President Anote Tong of Kiribati, who will tell those who will listen at Copenhagen exactly what global warming is doing to their land, homes, peoples and culture.
Also, a briefing paper on climate change, global warming and how it impacts on the Pacific islands and peoples has been written and released by the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PiPP). It details a plan on how adaptation needs to be organised and addressed in the Pacific region.
Here is PIPP’s statement on this plan, it will be at Copenhagen, and plans to lobby on behalf of our region’s peoples.
Climate countdown: time to address the Pacific’s development challenges!
The sirens have sounded on climate change. Pacific islands are on the frontline and some are facing an existential threat to their very existence. The world will be watching what happens at the Copenhagen summit, but few are optimistic about the outcomes. The Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PiPP) has just released a briefing paper that canvases the most important aspects of the debate in a Pacific context: the human impact of climate change and how adaptation measures should be about meeting development challenges.
Mr Derek Brien, Deputy Executive Director of PiPP, says “in a changing climate, the development challenges remain the same. Adaptation needs to consider more than just climate-proofing infrastructure. Climate change adaptation is about development: water supply, sanitation, agricultural productivity, food security, urbanisation, economic development, health care and education”.
The latter especially may not seem obvious climate related issues, but without healthy and well educated populations, the Pacific will not have the capacity to deal with development pressures that are made all the more urgent in the face of shifting weather patterns, coastal erosion and more frequent and extreme storm events.
Even in the most vulnerable, low lying atoll states, the focus of climate change is on tackling existing and future development challenges. Kiribati (population 100,000), Marshall Islands (60,000) and Tuvalu (population 10,000) face the prospect of becoming uninhabitable over the next fifty years. Compounding the problem of rising seas and retreating land is rapid population growth, placing increasing pressures on already limited physical and social infrastructure. South Tarawa, the main atoll of Kiribati already suffers severe overcrowding with over 40,000 people crammed into less than 16 square kilometres of land. That is a higher population density than Sydney, Australia’s largest city.
Relocation is not a simple solution. The evacuation of 3,000 people from the Carteret islands, a group of five atolls in Papua New Guinea that have progressively become uninhabitable due to salt-water inundation, has been fraught with problems. Not the least of which is how to move entire communities so they can be self-sufficient and live harmoniously with the traditional land owners.
President Anote Tong of Kiribati goes to Copenhagen with an emotional message – in fifty years his country may be all but submerged. He knows his people have to move, and has a preference for a gradual outflow rather than the wholesale relocation of the population.
“Climate change adaption also needs to facilitate choice migration”, says Derek Brien, “and that will require a shift in prevailing attitudes to the subject, as well as ensuring current and future generations of Pacific islanders have access to international standards of education to compete on the global stage”.
History has demonstrated the traditional resilience and mobility of island communities. People have moved when various pressures afflicted them, from tribal war, to fresh water scarcity to the lure of Christian missions and urban life. Climate change presents just the latest challenge for islanders to make the best of a bad situation and adapt – as they always have.
This time, however, the challenge is global and there will need to be a sustained and co-operative effort by the world’s leaders to tackle it. Copenhagen was supposed to deliver a binding post-2012 agreement. For the Pacific Island states, the count down has well and truly started. For some there may be little time left. Climate change threatens the region in a way that may warrant declaring a state of emergency.
It is time to act and global mitigation targets must be ambitious. Rapid and significant reductions in emissions and switching to renewable energy sources are presented as the best options to start tackling what could end up being the greatest challenge of our time.
The Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PiPP) is an independent, non-partisan and not-for-profit think tank based in Port Vila, Vanuatu and exists to stimulate and support policy debate in the Pacific.
PiPP will be attending the COP15 meetings in Copenhagen.
- Pacific Institute of Public Policy: Click here to download the full briefing note on Copenhagen.
- Planet A:Free Concert & March for climate change. (Auckland, Saturday Dec. 5)
- Selwyn Manning Doco:Tokelau Still Afloat on the High Seas