Island nations across Pacific demand ‘safe, habitable future’

In the build-up to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties , or COP26, in Glasgow much of the focus has been on the major polluters such as Australia and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

However, little has been said about what the Pacific island nations stand to lose if no positive agreement is reached in Glasgow.

Already many island nations scattered across the Pacific are feeling the impact of climate change as sea levels rise. Many of these nations sit just a few meters above sea level.

The World Bank in a report titled, Legal Dimensions of Sea Level Rise: Pacific Perspectives, (dated Oct 6) warned some island nations will become “totally uninhabitable”.

“Global mean sea-level will continue to rise throughout the 21st century due to the effects of climate change,” the report said.

“In many areas, this will result in increased coastal flooding, storm surges, cyclones and even land loss. In small Pacific atoll nations, these impacts are expected to be more severe, with entire islands at risk of becoming uninhabitable,” it added.

“Along with the loss of homes and resources, the loss of land to rising seas would also have profound impacts on countries” legal and maritime rights.” In other words, cease being a nation.

The Pacific Islands Climate Action Network met on Oct 22 and issued a list of demands to world leaders ahead of COP 26, saying they must provide “a safe and habitable future for the Pacific islands”.

The group called on the world’s wealthy nations to provide developing states $100 billion annually until 2025 and increase that sum to $750 billion a year beyond 2025, so they can invest in technologies to help live with a changing climate.

Former Kiribati president Anote Tong told the virtual gathering of Pacific climate-action organizations the COP26 meeting would be the last chance to save Pacific island nations from the worst effects of climate change.

Siobhan McDonnell, senior lecturer at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy, said all governments must work harder to ensure the urgency of the climate situation facing all Pacific island nations is heard at COP26.

“There’s an urgency around Pacific island countries; this is not just an issue of adaptation. There are issues of material and non-material loss and damage caused by the impact of climate change that are tangible and real,” McDonnell said in a statement.

“These are actual costs that are borne now and into the future by Pacific island nations and their people in terms of spiritual loss of place, loss of aspects of culture, burial grounds and loss of attachment to place.”

Wesley Morgan, adjunct research fellow at Griffith University’s Asia Institute said the Pacific islands are at the frontline of climate change.

“Despite their size, these small island nations as a bloc punch well above their weight on the international stage,” he told China Daily. “And they are not prepared to go down without a fight.

Associate Professor Christian Downie from the School of Regulation and Global Governance at the Australian National University said the Pacific island nations face an “existential threat” from climate change.

“They will be hoping that COP26 delivers an agreement that is consistent with keeping global warning to 1.5 C,” he told China Daily.

He said for the Glasgow summit to be deemed a success, a few things need to go right.

“First of all, countries need to commit not simply to net-zero targets by 2050, but stronger targets for 2030. Without them, there’s zero chance the world will hold the rise in global temperatures to 2 C,” Downie said.

“Major emitters will also need to support developing countries with the finance and technologies to enable them to transition to clean energy and adapt to climate change impacts, including severe flooding and prolonged droughts.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced, on Oct 26, the government’s plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Called “The Australian Way: a whole-of-economy plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050”, the plan is based on existing policies but light on detail.

Joe Fontaine, lecturer in Fire Ecology at Murdoch University in Western Australia, described the policy as having all the strength of a “wet paper bag”.

“All we see is the same rudderless policy vacuum that has been a headwind to investment and innovation to drive decarbonization of the Australian economy,” he told China Daily.

“Taking such a hollow policy to Glasgow will further solidify Australia’s reputation as a climate laggard and cheater dating back to Kyoto in 1997.”

He said the consequences of such a weak climate policy will be felt by all Australians as the country becomes a dumping ground for old technology.

Professor Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University, was equally scathing, saying: “It is an extraordinary achievement to use 850 words to make a statement that tells us absolutely nothing about the plan the Australian prime minister says his government has to reach net zero emissions by 2050.”

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