This year’s Pacific Islands Forum is under way in the Marshall Islands, and the hosts have made climate change the urgent focus of discussions. In my column at The Daily Blog this week — Letting the Pacific drown — I take a look at New Zealand PM John Key’s depressing, but entirely predictable, response to pleas for leadership from the island nations that through inaction face inundation. Discussion over there, please.
A friend from Los Angeles mentioned when visiting us a few days ago that he had recently seen a striking performance at UCLA by dancers from the Pacific islands of Tuvalu, Tokelau and Kiribati. Climate change figured strongly in the concert, which was part of a project called Water is Rising. Intrigued, I tracked down the project website and to my delight discovered a video of the live performance at UCLA (presented above). I say delight advisedly because I was unable to tear myself away from the 90-minute performance once I’d begun to watch it, captivated by its dance and song and moved by the simple human appeal that accompanied it. The performers were bringing their unique cultural art to American audiences, but they were also haunted by the deep threat to their cultures of the rising sea levels and they had a clear message to go with their performance.
It’s a message which I think we in the developed world need to hear over and over again. I’ve therefore transcribed some of the introductory words of the leaders of the three groups. They were not carefully crafted, the speakers felt for their words, and the English syntax was not always perfect, but the plea was all the more telling for that. The Tuvalu leader, gesturing towards the performers:
These are the human face of climate change. We are the most vulnerable people to climate change and we are here with a simple message to you all – for you to give us a hand, for your minds to feel with us, your hearts to be with us. We are here to represent our countries…we [Tuvalu] are small, we are only 24 square kilometres land mass. No mountains for us to hide ourselves when it comes to sea level rise…we are only three to four metres high. Please think of us, and enjoy yourselves.
Tuvalu has declared a state of emergency relating to water shortages in the capital, Funafuti, and a number of outer islands. A New Zealand Defence Force C-130 left this morning to take supplies and personnel to Tuvalu. The supplies include two desalination units as well as water containers. Two Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff on board, including our Wellington-based High Commissioner, will remain in Tuvalu to help assess needs on the ground. New Zealand will be working with partners and other donors to consider the best medium-to-long-term response options.
Tuvalu, with 11,000 inhabitants, is not the only island nation in trouble. Tokelau, with 1400 inhabitants, has declared a state of emergency because fresh water supplies might run out in a few days. Samoa is rationing water also.
There appears to be a reasonable probability that there is a causal link between the drought and water scarcity affecting the islands and climate change.
We seem to have convinced the world that we’re right up in the forefront when it comes to tackling climate change.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon came to New Zealand this week to the Pacific Islands Forum and called at Kiribati en route.
“For those who believe climate change is about some distant future, I invite them to Kiribati.
“Climate change is not about tomorrow. It is lapping at our feet – quite literally in Kiribati and elsewhere.”
“We will not succeed in reducing emissions without sustainable energy solutions,” he said, and then he praised New Zealand as a global leader in sustainable development, with the vast majority of its energy coming from renewable sources. Continue reading “A Week of Contradiction”
Cleo Paskal, whose book Global Warring was reviewed recently on Hot Topic, has been speaking in New Zealand and left her card by way of an article in the Herald.Â In it she focuses on one matter raised in her book â€“ the fate of island nations whose land becomes uninhabitable because of rising seas.Â Two small islands have disappeared recently. When Bermeja, in the Gulf of Mexico, disappeared so did the large claim Mexico was making in the hydro-carbon rich waters of the Gulf. No island, no claim, says the US. (Did the CIA blow the island up?) When New Moore Island at the mouth of the boundary river between India and Bangladesh disappeared, so did the competing claims of the two countries for control.
Paskal points out that the problem of land loss potentially leading to maritime zone loss is going to come up more often in the future, especially in the Pacific, and that it is a matter of considerable importance for the inhabitants. Tuvalu is an example of particular relevance to New Zealand.