Pay Attention to What’s Happening to the Pacific Islands
The 2010 Climate Adaptation Futures Conference on Australia’s Gold Coast last week ended with one regional scientist saying most of the program turned out to be irrelevant for its Pacific attendees. The pace of climate change is very rapid in some places and there may simply not be time to win the public over to take action to avoid or adapt, according to ABC’s Pacific Beat. Is anything happening? A year ago the same program ended with these words: “Leaders of the Pacific together with Australia and New Zealand need to stand together as leaders of this region to avoid the loss of countries in the Pacific”.
ABC Radio’s Pacific Beat Program (5 July 2010):
The 2010 Climate Adaptation Futures Conference on Australia’s Gold Coast wrapped up on Thursday with one regional scientist saying most of the program turned out to be irrelevant for its Pacific attendees.
Another says the small amount of research being done in these islands has led to the majority of what we understand being based on supposition and best guesses.
Two proposed authors of the International Panel on Climate Change 5th assessment report update Pacific Beat about their feelings about the conference and where climate science seems to be heading now.
Presenter: Danielle Grindlay
Speaker: Patrick Nunn, professor of oceanic geoscience at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji and proposed AR5 author; Arthur Webb, Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission and proposed AR5 author
GRINDLAY: At the close of the three day conference, Professor Patrick Nunn of Oceanic Geoscience at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji says areas like the Pacific region were largely overlooked in discussions.
NUNN: I think that’s fair to say that the conference was a bit irrelevant. I suppose if I had a comment on the conference as a whole it was very focussed on processes of getting adaptation to climate change right in richer countries. Very little was devoted to issues around adaptation in poorer countries.
GRINDLAY: The conference comes as the International Panel on Climate Change recently released the list of authors to contribute to the 5th assessment report [AR5], which will guide decision makers on climate change over the next few years. Professor Nunn and Arthur Webb of the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission, are two of just a handful of authors from the island Pacifics to contribute to the report.
Professor Nunn says more resources and attention are needed in the region.
NUNN: Regions of the world, like the Pacific islands, do tend to be marginalised in a lot of these kinds of assessments. I think there needs to be more concentrated efforts to engage people from those regions of the world. The way to correct that is to have more professionals with expertise in the Pacific islands on these kinds of bodies like the IPCC. That said, if those people don’t exist in the Pacific islands (and they don’t in the main) then there’s no way you can correct that imbalance at this stage in time.
GRINDLAY: Amid times of speculation and criticism of climate science, Professor Nunn says AR5 will aim to provide decision makers with the information and motivation they need to take action.
NUNN: I find that many decision makers both at national level and at community level in the Pacific islands really don’t want to believe in climate change. They don’t want to hear about the kind of disruption that it’s going to bring and therefore they’re really not interested in learning about adaptation options.
GRINDLAY: Both scientists say urgency is necessary for some islands of the region. Arthur Webb says more research is vital to prepare communities in the near future.
WEBB: There is so little research being done in these islands and most of what we understand is based on supposition and best guesses. We must undertake the research so we understand exactly what’s happening so that we can inform these communities who are in immediate danger and risk, how they can best respond.
GRINDLAY: However Professor Nunn says it’s time now to stop talking and take action – whether the public is on board or not.
NUNN: We don’t need a whole lot more research in the region. I don’t think there’s any real advantage for the region for an increased amount of precision in our estimates of what’s likely to happen. One thing I think that we have to understand is that the pace of climate change is very rapid in some places and there may simply not be time to win the public over in the ways that we’d like to do so ideally.
Here’s what was said on Pacific Beat programme a year ago (24 July 2009):
Oxfam and Greenpeace have launched the final phase of their push to get the Pacific Islands Forum to endorse strong action on climate change. Voices from the Frontline is a speaking tour which aims to give Pacific community leaders an opportunity to tell the Australian public how climate change is affecting their people, and to get Australians to lobby the Government. The tour visits Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane before arriving in Cairns to coincide with the Pacific Island Forum early next month.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Pelenisi Alofa, Kiribati; Julie Anne Richards, Oxfam Australia’s Climate Change Co-ordinator; Reverend Tafue Lusama, Chairman of the Tuvalu Climate Action Network
GARRETT: It was no holds barred from the Pacific speakers at Voices from the Frontline. Pelenisi Alofa from Kiribati spoke first.
ALOFA: We are in a crisis moment right now, Pacific low-lying atoll islands, especially Kiribati, FSM Islands, Tuvalu. That’s why I’m here this evening. I am here to tell you that my parents, my children, my grandchildren and the rest of my family, my country is being threatened by climate change.
GARRETT: Speakers told of stronger cyclones wiping out roads and vegetation, of salt inundation of drinking water and crops, of relatively new infrastructure that’s now covered with water at high tide, of damaged reefs and sea walls and of longer droughts. They also had their own more personal stories. Pelenisi Alofa again:
ALOFA: I rent a house in Tarawa, Kiribati, it’s a three-bedroom house, but when it’s high tide the water seeps under the sand and washed and it’s collected in the front of my yard. Water when at high tide, that’s what’s happening Kiribati right now, and it’s happening to everybody.
GARRETT: Speakers from the Pacific and from Australia called on leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum to agree to make cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions of 40 per cent by 2020. That’s in line with what scientists have recommended if small atoll nations are to survive, and what’s been demanded by some Pacific leaders and the alliance of small island states. As the clamour for action on climate change gets louder, international non-government organisations are also coming in behind a 40 per cent target. Julie Anne Richards, Oxfam Australia’s Climate Change Co-ordinator told the meeting Australia should double its funding to help the Pacific cope with climate change and lift its total contribution to climate change adaptation in the developing world to 4.3 billion dollars a year.
RICHARDS: It is a large figure but it’s what we need if we’re going to prevent catastrophic climate change. Four-point-three-billion dollars to put it in perspective is roughly the same amount of permits that the government is planning giving to big polluters in the carbon pollution reduction scheme, rather than selling to them. So if the government were to choose to sell permits in the Emissions Trading Scheme that it’s currently proposing rather than giving them away to big polluters, it could raise that scale of funding.
GARRETT: Oxfam and Greenpeace see next months’ Pacific Islands Forum as an important stepping stone in their battle to get a strong climate agreement at the crucial Copenhagen Climate Meeting at the end of the year. Reverend Tafue Lusama told the Sydney audience that a 40 per cent cut in carbon emissions is the minimum needed if his country, Tuvalu, is to avoid becoming the first nation of environmental refugees.
LUSAMA: I would like the Australian Prime Minister to stop being hypocritical and to act sincerely to ensure that we survive.
GARRETT: If you get to meet Kevin Rudd in Cairns when you’re there and he’s there for the Pacific Islands Forum, what would you say to him?
LUSAMA: I would plead with him to increase the commitments of Australia to carbon emission reduction because what has been proposed is far from what is needed.
GARRETT: What action would you like to see from the Pacific Island Forum meeting?
LUSAMA: I would like the leaders of the Pacific together with Australia and New Zealand to stand together as leaders of this region to avoid the loss of countries in the Pacific. And the thing that is holding us back is the political will to commit. So as I always say I have faith in human beings because human beings always have that sense of responsibility to do something when we are faced with a challenge. Now the question is will the political leaders agree on that?