[Videos courtesy of LYON Associates]
Impacts of climate change:
Pacific islanders have noticed obvious changes occurring in their homes. A multitude of climate related disasters are already impacting their islands. Currently, residents are dealing with erosion, sea-level rise, relocation, the loss of culture & heritage, the loss of biodiversity, fresh-water contamination by seawater, dying plants/crops by saltwater inundation [i.e. taro, coconuts], even the complete disappearances of islands. Some inhabited islands are estimated to be completely under-water in the next 50 years.
The FSM has a population of about 108,000 residents. Of that 108,000, an estimated 30,000 reside on low-lying atolls. These low-lying atolls are experiencing the early impacts of sea-level rise due to climate change and are faced with the reality that they will need to abandon their homes within the 4 decades. To the west of the FSM are the Palauan islands, which just experienced two of the strongest typhoons ever recorded. The typhoons hit Palau in 2012 and 2013, and because of climate change, stronger typhoons are expected to become regular events. To the east of the FSM are the Marshall Islands, an atoll country that has been experiencing some of the worst cases of drought on record. Communities there have had to rely on water catchment systems, desalination systems, and imports to produce freshwater. As an atoll country, they are also at risk of sea-level rise and are considering the relocation of over 50,000 residents before the year 2050.
Although scientists project the disappearance of most atoll islands by 2050, residents aren't waiting to see that happen. Residents of low-lying atolls are already relocating to high-elevated islands leading to a dramatic population growth in concentrated areas. This then leads to a domino effect where overpopulation will lead to resource depletion then the eventual movement of that community to another location.
In addition, this population relocation can also lead to resource depletion that will turn into an increase in imported items such as canned goods, which is a leading cause of obesity and diabetes within the COFA nations.
In last year’s “Waves of Change” summit in Honolulu, Tony Debrum (Minister in Assistance to the President of the RMI) explained that Micronesian countries are doing their part to prevent climate change. The RMI is seriously considering converting to sustainable sources of energy: Solar energy conversion and Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC). Mr. Debrum also stated that Micronesian nations have actively participated in the global awareness of climate change and have been pioneers in conservation projects (i.e. shark sanctuaries). In contrast, Mr. Debrum showed disapproval of major world polluters to take responsibility of the fight against climate change. “While science and logic accepts, economics and politics reject”, this statement by Mr. Debrum was made in response to the “reluctance of Earth’s polluters to accept responsibility”.
Mr. Debrum has been a vocal ambassador of climate change awareness in the Pacific. His efforts reflect a Micronesian/Pacific wide movement to raise consciousness and support.
President Emanuel Mori of the FSM passed the “Nationwide Climate Change Policy” in 2009. This policy aims to, “mitigate climate change especially at the international level, and adaptation at the national, state, and community levels to reduce the FSM’s vulnerability to climate change adverse impacts”. Following this, the office of Environment and Emergency Management (EEM) conducted “vulnerability and adaptation” assessments. The studies evaluate the risks and preparedness of areas such as: agriculture, marine, terrestrial, coastal, water and infrastructure. Measures to improve these areas are developing.
Communities throughout Micronesia have engineered different ways of producing crops, such as raising taro patches, and using cement blocks or coconut husks to elevate crops from the rising sea. Communities have also switched from relying on wells to relying on water catchments for water.
In Palau, students from the school of journalism at Southern Illinois University teamed up with The Centers for Disease Control and the Palau Ministry of Health to produce a website that brings research and awareness about the impacts of climate change in Palau. It also serves as a great resource for the study of climate change and its effects on public health.
Along with these measures, leaders of the FSM, Palau and the RMI have increased and improved understanding of climate change among their citizens and throughout the world.
At the 44th Pacific Islands Forum, held in Majuro on September of last year, member countries adopted the "Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership". The Declaration, "captures the Pacific’s political commitment to be a region of Climate Leaders, and to spark a 'new wave of climate leadership' that can deliver a safe climate future for all". Member countries include: Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu.
The "Majuro Declaration" is a great initiative, it also shows solidarity amongst nations facing current threats and impending ones on the horizon. Other examples of unity in the midst of climate change occurred when the FSM agreed to appropriate US$225,000 to assist with humanitarian relief efforts for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Republic of the Philippines, the Republic of Palau, the FSM State of Yap, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
There is a good 60 years of data that shows that temperature rise and sea-level rise is occuring. An overwhelming majority of environmental scientists agree that humans cause climate change (over 95%). Though there may be other non-human contributors to climate change, it is a virtual certainty that climate change is already having a harmful effect on atoll nations. The UN is currently promoting a “limit [to] the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst impacts of climate change".
The Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christina Figueres, stated, “Thankfully, momentum to fight climate change is building. We know that success is possible. We have the technology, funding and ability to respond. The many successes at domestic, international and private sector levels to build a low-carbon society shine light on the way forward, but we do need to quickly go to scale".
In spite of all these statements, agreements, and strong data, policymakers from major carbon emitting countries are still arguing the facts. Frankly there has been less action from those responsible for climate change than from those who’re directly impacted by it.
In Kiribati, a country that consists entirely of low-lying atolls, their president, Anote Tong, has revealed that they are already planning the future evacuation of its entire population. With limited funds, their idea is to prepare their citizens to become competent refugees. He stated, “They need to find employment, not as refugees but as immigrant people with skills to offer, people who have a place in the community, people who will not be seen as second-class citizens”. Not only are Pacific people changing their ways of life to adapt to a climate disaster that they contributed little to, but they are also trying to adapt themselves to become competent citizens of the places that are most responsible for the disappearance of their homes. Is this a classic case of, “If you can’t beat ‘em join em”? But what other option do they have? This may very well be the reality for all low-lying communities.
Meanwhile, in September of 2013, a Kiribati man was refused a “climate change refugee bid”. The man argued that he had the right to claim refugee status in New Zealand because his home country is in danger from rising sea levels.
The New Zealand immigration tribunal accepted the threat of climate change in Kiribati but did not acknowledge that the man’s life was in immediate danger. The tribunal asserted that, "There is no evidence establishing that the environmental conditions that he faced or is likely to face on return are so parlous that his life will be placed in jeopardy, or that he and his family will not be able to resume their prior subsistence life with dignity". It would seem that the threat is not immediate enough for them to accept his status as a refugee. This is the current reality of Pacific Islanders facing climate change. They will have to prove the urgency of their situation, in order to flee. Although they are already feeling the conditions of this global disaster, they have to face it until their lives are in immediate danger before they can claim refugee status.
The future of COFA nations hinge on their relationships with the United States. A special relationship exist between these countries (Compact of Free Association). The compacts grant financial assistances from the USA and in return the US can use the territories for military purposes. However, compact funding is scheduled to end within the next 10 years, while the United States military monopoly in the region has no expiration date. Compact funding accounts for a little over 30% of GDP for all COFA nations. That is a significant amount and translates to a long-term dependence on US aid.
It is difficult to negotiate with the US as a leading contributor to carbon emissions, when it is also a major source of your income. The US is the COFA nation's greatest friend (economically) and our biggest enemy in terms of climate change.
- “Vanishing Islands”, YouTube. http://youtu.be/hFsZm0ddAL8
- “Changing Palau”, YouTube. http://youtu.be/aVI2Gy2hMQE.
- “Encroaching Seas”, YouTube. http://youtu.be/lNpSVKnx620.
- U.S. Department of Interior. http://www.doi.gov/oia/islands/fsm.cfm.
- “President Mori Signs FSM Climate Change Measure, Concludes Review of 10 Recent Public Laws”. Island Business. http://www.islandsbusiness.com/news/federated-states-of-micronesia/4320/president-mori-signs-fsm-climate-change-measure-co/.
- “UN Urges Global Response to Scientific Evidence That Climate Change is Human-induced.” UN.org. http://www.un.org/climatechange/blog/2013/09/27/un-urges-global-response-to-scientific-evidence-that-climate-change-is-human-induced/.
- “Climate Change 2013”. The Fourth Branch. http://www.the4rthbranch.com/articles/2013/9/27/global-warming.
- “Sea-level Rise, FSM & Hawaii”. The Fourth Branch. http://www.the4rthbranch.com/articles/2012/2/10/sea-level-rise-fsm-hawaii.html.
- “Pacific Nations Need Help Away From Aid.” Island Business. http://www.islandsbusiness.com/news/australia/4435/pacific-nations-need-help-away-from-aid/
- “Entire Nation of Kiribati to be Relocated Over Rising Sea Level Threat.” The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/australiaandthepacific/kiribati/9127576/Entire-nation-of-Kiribati-to-be-relocated-over-rising-sea-level-threat.html
- "Waves of Change", Olelo Community Media. http://olelo.granicus.com/ViewSearchResults.php?view_id=23&types[Clip]=on&types[AgendaItem]=on&types[Caption]=on&allwords=waves+of+change.
- Palau Climate Change. http://palauclimatechange.com/.
- Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership. http://www.majurodeclaration.org/the_declaration.
- LYON Associates. http://www.lyonassociates.com/index.