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Adapting To Climate Change In The Pacific

Adapting To Climate Change In The Pacific

* See Pacific Scoop for coverage of Copehagen from a Pacific and small states perspective: www.pacific.scoop.co.nz

By Tupuola Terry Tavita

APIA (Pacific Scoop/Pacific Media Watch): Despite what will be said and argued in Copenhagen, climate change due to a warming globe is irrefutable.

The impact of climate change in all its forms and manifestations is more lucidly apparent in this part of the world than anywhere else. Low-lying atolls like Tuvalu, Kiribati and Tokelau can only watch as rising sea levels threaten to inundate their homes, their livelihoods and their identity as a country, a territory.

For Samoa, the issue is not as alarming as we are blessed with high islands that offer refuge from the rising tides.

The irony of this global phenomenon is that those countries least responsible for global warming will bear the brunt of its adverse effects. Yet that is the least concern among the world powers in Copenhagen.

The main emitters of greenhouse gases led by the United States and China will be arguing over how much they can afford to cut back on their current levels of emission and by when they can be held accountable to those targets.

Their concern is not the small island nations whose very existence is on the balance, but by how much their own economic interests will be affected by the commitments they may make.

Many developing countries, including Samoa, have been pragmatic in their approach to the problem. They recognised early the futility of waiting for a legally binding agreement that will reverse what is no longer reversible. They recognised the inescapable fact that we can only prepare and adapt to the changes that will arise.

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In 1994, Samoa ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and committed itself to preparing a programme of action for adapting to climatic change. In September 2005, Samoa’s National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA) was endorsed by Cabinet, paving the way for Samoa to begin implementation and to seek funding from donors and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) which is the Conventions’ financial mechanism.

The framework
The National Adaptation Plan of Action (see pages 7 -11) identifies priority actions that Samoa must implement to adapt to climate change and climate variability. Its focus is to protect livelihoods, infrastructure and the environment, and build up community resilience to withstand, adapt to or bounce back following the impacts of environmental changes that will be triggered by global warming.

The Plan proposes key actions within nine highly vulnerable sectors – namely water, agriculture and food security, forestry, urban settlement, coasts, communities, trade and industry and transport and infrastructure. Many of these actions have and are already being implemented. The bulk of the measures proposed by NAPA require funding – which hopefully will be accessible through the Convention’s financial resources.

The immediacy of NAPA’s relevance to Samoa is most tragically illustrated in the recent tsunami event. Four years ago, NAPA recommended the resettlement of coastal communities in response to rising sea levels. It recommended the protection and replanting of coastal mangrove forests and the conservation of coral reefs for the protection of coastal communities.

The direct links between climate change and the September tsunami may be debatable, however, the fact that these climate-related events will occur more frequently in the immediate future is not.

The impact of climate change on Samoa may not be as drastic as the extent of inundation predicted for Tuvalu, Kiribati and similar low-lying atolls. However, the toll it will take on livelihoods will definitely threaten the viability of many coastal communities. For instance, among the most threatened of ecosystems are coral reefs.

Dead reefs and lagoons smothered by outbreaks of invasive seaweeds will affect household incomes, diets and food security.

On terrestrial environments, prolonged droughts and flash flooding will play havoc with agriculture. The links to income, food security, portable water, health, electricity, employment, coastal infrastructure and ultimately stalled economic development is painfully clear.

Priority projects
The nine priority projects requiring immediate implementation is estimated to cost US$7.8M. Samoa will be looking at the GEF and its other development partners for most of this.

But we are not just going just cap-in-hand to Copenhagen seeking funds for our adaptation measures. Miniscule as it is, Samoa can also contribute to mitigating climate change.

Samoa has old growth and secondary forests that are part of the global sink keeping carbon dioxide away from the atmosphere.

We can protect these forests by enforcing the ban on logging immediately, and replant new forests for future use which will at the same time contribute to taking CO2 out of the atmosphere.

We can integrate these with water catchment protection and the conservation of ecosystems of high biodiversity value, even managing them as national parks and botanical reserves.

These can be our points of argument in Copenhagen – that we too are prepared to do our part to reduce, global warming and climate change. Never mind the fact that we are victims of someone else’s excesses.


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