Pacific Island Nations Fight For Survival And Climate Justice

(MENAFN- Asia Times)

Warming seas and fast-eroding coastlines, destructive storm surges, and polluted water sources are the tip of the iceberg for smaller Pacific Islands facing extreme weather and climate change. For the 2.5 million people in the small island Pacific states, the onslaught of the climate crisis is a visible and daily reality. 

The numbers being attached to growing economic losses, including damage to infrastructure, and food, energy, and water loss, are getting into figures that move from millions to billions. Add to this the costs of loss of life, schooling, epidemic spread, and displacement. 

All of which are pushing island ecosystems beyond the limits of adaptation. For low-lying Pacific atoll nations, the impacts are existential. It is estimated that tidal waters will flood half of the land area of Funafuti, Tuvalu's capital, by 2050. By 2100, 95% of its lands will be flooded by routine high tides, pollute all drinking water, and destroy basic food security and energy supply.

We have heard all the Pacific Island leaders repeatedly state their case – while their countries are experiencing some of the worst impacts of a warming planet, these nations are responsible for a negligible fraction of greenhouse gas emissions. 

They are not sitting passively, awaiting the worst. Through grit and resilience – built on decades of struggles – many Pacific nations have developed blueprints to combat the climate crisis, and measure the loss and damages caused by climate change. 

This has required options for accelerated energy transitions, applications of new technologies, and innovation. Vanuatu is expanding energy access and is adopting circular-economy approaches. Threatened by large-scale displacement, Tuvalu is attempting to preserve its culture by creating a digital version of the country .

Youth are stepping up. It is inspiring to see groups such as the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change making their voices heard, and to see youth-led campaigns have legal advice issued on climate change by the United Nations' International Court of Justice.

Last month at COP27 in Egypt, we saw the power of this collective advocacy, with the establishment of a Loss and Damage Fund. While the details must still be worked out, its establishment is a milestone in 30 years of climate talks. Such a resource could provide much-needed financial assistance to developing countries in the faster recovery and rebuilding after climate-related disasters.

Costs and benefits

No country can afford to sit out the fight against climate change, especially the large emitter nations and multinational corporations. Much more must be done by the rest of the world to ensure indusrtial-era global warming stays below 1.5 degrees Celsius. All countries and carbon-heavy industries must accelerate away from fossil fuels, scale investments in renewable energy, and share the technologies needed to rapidly advance adaptation.

At the heart of this debate and action lies the issue of climate justice. We must all be able to recognize the disproportionate impacts of climate change on those least responsible for causing it. And we must actively ensure no countries or peoples are left behind in pursuit of a more sustainable, and more just, net-zero future.

At the UN Development Program (UNDP), we are working with 16 countries in the Pacific to support them to enhance their climate ambitions. These are expressed in their revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The lens of climate justice, which puts those most vulnerable at the center of the choices and decisions being made, is critical to this effort. 

The UNDP's policy paper on“environmental justice : Securing Our Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment” provides a framework to ensure protection and justice for those experiencing the consequences of the climate crisis in acute and disproportionate ways.

Our Climate Promise initiative supports six Pacific countries in enhancing emission reductions. In Papua New Guinea, for example, its NDCs include concrete targets to reduce emissions in the forestry and energy sectors, while including adaptation targets for enhancing the resilience of communities.

Such NDC ambitions can and must be realized by national and international stakeholders joining together – with the shared political commitment and resources to make it happen.

The costs of climate action are high; however, the costs of inaction are much, much higher. Developing countries will have to pursue all avenues of financing and developed countries and investors must make good on their financial commitments, including through old and new financing instruments that significantly reduce the cost of lending.

While Pacific Island nations continue to push for meaningful climate action and climate justice, those responsible for the lion's share of GHG emissions, must accept their responsibility and respond positively. Our future – in this Age of Humans – depends on it. 


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