New Zealand politicians are engrossed in working out how persuasive a case they can make for lenient treatment in any post-Kyoto agreement. One hopes they can find time to consider the Pacific nations who are already suffering effects from climate change. Oxfam has followed up its overview report on the effects of climate change on developing countries, discussed earlier on Hot Topic, with a report specific to our own region The Future is Here: Climate Change in the Pacific. Basically the report says to Australia and New Zealand: here in your own backyard are people already suffering the consequences of global warming; you are among the rich countries most responsible for what is happening; there are things you need to do to help Pacific nations combat and adapt to climate change.
The most important is to act responsibly in a post-Kyoto agreement. That means wealthy polluting countries like Australia and New Zealand reducing their emissions by at least 40% by 2020 and at least 95% by 2050. The current emissions reductions targets set by Australia and New Zealand fall short of their international obligations.
That said, Australia and New Zealand also have a critical role to play in supporting local efforts in the Pacific to explore and access a range of renewable energy sources and to protect forests across the region. Where mitigation measures are possible they should be supported.
But adaptation measures are now urgent. Some aid has already been given to such projects, for example, as the Kiribati Adaptation Programme, to which NZ is contributing $1.5m. The report acknowledges a range of such support, but notes that, like Australia, NZ has largely failed to commit new and sufficient funds for adaptation. Oxfam is clear that meeting adaptation measures by simply redirecting existing development aid is a cop-out and will not be acceptable to the developing nations, a point hammered home by Nicholas Stern in his book The Global Deal.
Basic resilience programmes at the level of local communities are favoured by the report. A case study describes five Fijian villages engaged in an innovative programme of community climate adaption.
The villagers are working to climate proof their homes and communities, in preparation for future impacts caused by tidal surges, coastal erosion or flooding caused by heavy rainfall after cyclones. They are trialing salt-resistant varieties of staple foods such as taro, planting mangroves, native grasses and other trees to halt coastal erosion, protecting fresh water wells from salt-water intrusion, and relocating homes and community buildings away from vulnerable coastlines.
But relocation is in some cases the only kind of adaptation available. A community activist from Chuuk State in the Federated States of Micronesia reports:
“Most of the people there are really suffering from food insecurity and lack of water, because of the intrusion of sea water. They don’t feel secure because the water surges have been coming in and actually inundated their area. So there is a concern within the government now that we need to be addressing issues of relocation and having our people to be climate proofing – to do projects that at least it can help them in the short term. But they’re pretty sure they’re going to have to move in to the bigger islands.”
However internal relocation is not going to be an option for some states. There is no inland retreat or higher ground for Kiribati. President Tong speaks of the need to up-skill the population in readiness for the day when all 100,000 of them will have to move elsewhere and participate in labour markets.
Oxfam says Australia and New Zealand need to engage in dialogue with Pacific island governments, plan to address issues of climate displacement, and develop immigration policies that support Pacific island communities forced to move from their homes.
Past experience doesn’t augur well. Tuvaluan delegates say they raised the issue of a resettlement scheme with Australian officials in Canberra as far back as 2001. A Tuvalu government official commented:
“The statement was hardly out of their mouths before the Australian delegation shut it up. Australia is absolutely against opening up any dialogue or discussion on this. We share this little corner of the earth called the South Pacific Ocean. We were expecting Australia to be a bit more supportive.”
Try again? I wonder what John Key would say at the Pacific Islands Forum this coming week if any leader was indelicate enough to raise the issue of displacement with him. Talk about the frightening possibility that if NZ takes climate change too seriously it mightn’t have grown to be quite as rich in 2020 as it could otherwise expect to be?