For many countries the effects of climate change may not yet be obvious, but for the people in the Pacific Islands the threat is very real. “There are still some who believe that climate change is a distant threat but for us it is a present threat. It’s happening now and our people are being affected now,” said the Hon. Tessie Eria Lambourne, Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Immigration for the Government of Kiribati during a recent discussion at the World Bank.
Kautuna Kaitara, Program Manager of the Kiribati Adaptation Program, is among those who have seen first-hand the impacts of climate change in the Pacific Islands. “Coastal areas are eroded, but extremely eroded in some areas which took away the land with permanent housing built on them, requiring relocations of the communities living there,” said Kautuna.
The geographic conditions of the Pacific Islands – small, low lying islands – make them highly vulnerable to effects of climate change such as increasing sea level rise and the various impacts it brings.
More risks arise from the region’s high exposure to natural hazards. About 41 tropical cyclones occur each year in the region, making it the most damaging peril in terms of economic loss while earthquakes are close behind.
Natural disasters cause the Pacific Islands countries to lose 2 percent of their GDP annually. Eight of these countries are among the top 20 in the world with the highest loss of GDP from natural disasters. Vulnerability is worsened by poor development planning and the countries’ limited ability to respond and manage the risks.
A recent World Bank report highlighted the risk that, without global action, the world could potentially be 4°C warmer by the end of the century, which would be catastrophic for Pacific Islanders.
This year’s Pacific Islands Forum – with climate change as a major theme – is held in the Marshall Islands where the highest point is only 3 meters above sea level.
“It is an appropriate venue for the Forum which focuses on marshaling a Pacific Response to climate change,” said Axel van Trotsenburg, World Bank Regional Vice President for East Asia and the Pacific.
Global efforts must be undertaken to avoid the world from warming, and provide support to Pacific Island countries so that they can continue to live on their islands.
“We need lots of resources to build up our islands to enable them to support the population. We hope we don’t have to go but it may be inevitable,” says Tessie Lambourne, “We hope we don’t have to make that painful decision.”
The World Bank Group is committed to working with countries and development partners to take necessary measures to hold warming to 2°C. However, even if warming is limited to 2°C, huge investments are still needed to help countries adapt and to strengthen the resilience of communities most affected.
Therefore as well as supporting global mitigation efforts, the Bank also recognizes the vital need to help countries in the Pacific both adapt to climate change and manage the risk of natural disasters. The World Bank is supporting:
- constructing climate resilient transport infrastructure in Samoa
- building seawalls and planting mangroves to protect coastlines in Kiribati
- introducing climate resilient livestock and crops in Vanuatu
- establishing a disaster risk insurance scheme.
By the end of 2013, the World Bank will have committed over $120 million to help Pacific Island Forum member countries adapt to climate change and build resilience to disasters. This includes $80 million in extra resources from global trust funds and development partners, as well as $40m from the International Development Association, the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries.