Climate crisis is here
An innocuous story in the ocean of online news recently caught my attention. It said that an entire Pacific island nation was considering an unusual backup plan for survival: moving its entire population to another country.
The nation is Kiribati, thousands of miles northeast of Papua New Guinea in the south Pacific. Kiribati President Anote Tong told media that his Cabinet, fearing climate change could wipe out their archipelago, had approved a plan to buy nearly 6,000 acres on Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu.
Some or all of Kiribati’s population of 103,000 could move there when their islands are submerged—in a matter of decades, according to current forecasts. The nation straddles the equator near the International Date Line, and many of its coral atolls rise just a few feet above sea level.
For the Kiribati people, moving won’t be a matter of choice but of survival, said Tong. Seawater is contaminating underground freshwater resources more often, while rainfall, storm, and tidal patterns are changing.
Other unusual options that Kiribati is considering to mitigate the impact of climate change include shoring up some islands with sea walls and even building a floating island, much like a giant oil platform anchored to an atoll.
Gloomy forecasts. Kiribati’s plight dramatizes a growing climate change crisis in the island nations of the Pacific and other archipelagos of the world. According to United Nations (UN) forecasts, Kiribati and neighboring Tuvalu, as well as the Marshall Islands, may be completely inundated by the rising waters of the Pacific by 2050.
And a new report by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology on climate change in the Pacific Ocean says the region is getting hotter, sea levels are rising, rainfall is changing, and equatorial winds have weakened. And cyclone intensity is likely going to be greater.
To their credit, the Pacific island countries and territories (PICTs) have pledged to make a token financial contribution toward global efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
But global climate change will occur regardless of future emissions, and adapting to the changes will be vital—and urgent for PICTs, where impacts are expected to be intense.
Funding for adaptation. The costs of responding to climate change can be astronomical. Although accurate estimates have not been finalized, they could easily amount to billions of dollars. Where will the money come from? There is a range of funding sources available to support climate change adaptation initiatives in the region, from foundations and philanthropists to public donations.
Funds administered by the UN Global Environment Facility include the GEF-Pacific Alliance for Sustainability Fund, the Least Developed Countries Fund, and the Special Climate Change Fund. Funds from these facilities are in excess of $21 billion, but they are not exclusively for the Pacific.
There is also the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience, which is part of the Strategic Climate Fund, a multidonor trust fund with resources of $975 million.
But regardless of where the money comes from, it will not be enough. These island states need to set priorities. And the challenge is to implement them effectively and to take a long-term view on planning for adaptation and resource management.
The clock is ticking for these Pacific island countries as they face their uncertain future. The world must rally to their side because their entire cultures, their way of life, and their lives are at stake.
Crispin C. Maslog is a science columnist of SciDev.Net. He is a former journalist with the Agence France-Presse and science journalism professor at Silliman University and UP Los Baños.
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