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OPINION

Pacific Islands facing a rising tide

Axel van Trotsenburg

September 3, 2013

Pacific Island nations are living close to the edge, where the effects of climate change are tangible. With the planet today already 0.8 ºC warmer than in pre-industrial times, Pacific Islanders can see and feel the impacts.

In the Marshall Islands, the highest point above sea level in the atoll nation is only 3 meters. It is an appropriate venue for this week’s Pacific Islands Forum which focuses on: “Marshalling a Pacific Response to Climate Change”.

In May this year, an unprecedented drought in the northern atolls of the Marshall Islands left many without enough food and water.  In July, storm surges combined with king-tides washed over the seawall, flooding the capital city, washing over the airport runway, and contaminating limited freshwater supplies.

In a very real sense, the Marshall Islands and the wider Pacific region are on the front line of climate change and more frequent natural hazards.

As the recent World Bank global report, “Turn Down the Heat” warned, without ambitious climate action we could experience a 2ºC (3.6ºF) warmer world in our lifetime and 4ºC (7ºF) increase by the end of the century. 

A 4ºC temperature means the risk of sea levels rising from 50cm to 1 meter over the coming century, leading to the loss of freshwater reserves in many island states. Coral reef systems could become extinct, and low laying atolls face the risk of being submerged.

Climate change could undermine future food security and have serious implications for people’s health. Natural hazards such as cyclones and tidal surges, which already cause loss of life and immense damage across the Pacific, may increase in intensity.

In the face of this rising tide, failure to act on climate change risks putting prosperity out of reach of millions of people in the developing world; it also threatens to roll back decades of development.

It is not too late to hold warming to 2ºC.  But this will require commitment and decisive action from a range of global partners to reduce emissions.

The World Bank Group is working with the global community to find and implement solutions, providing over $8 billion dollars in 2012 to help mitigate global temperature rises.

Even if new policy measures manage to limit global warming to around 2 degrees by the end of the century, huge investments will still be needed to help countries adapt and to strengthen the resilience of the communities most at risk.

At the Pacific Leaders Forum in Vanuatu in 2010, the World Bank was asked to do more to help Pacific countries adapt to the impact of climate change. We have acted. 

By the end of this year, 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 from partners, as well as $40m from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest.

In Samoa, the World Bank is helping to “climate proof” key transport infrastructure, and we are working with the UN to build the resilience of coastal communities. We have also provided support for recovery from Tropical Cyclone Evan, helping to rebuild damaged roads and bridges and providing seeds, tools and livestock to affected farmers.

In Vanuatu, we are partnering with the European Union to encourage farmers to introduce climate resilient livestock and crops, and implementing disaster risk management programs in some 35 communities. A tsunami warning system is being installed for Port Vila and Luganville and national hazard response systems are being strengthened.

In Kiribati, with Australia and New Zealand, an Adaptation Project is helping the country improve water management, with initial improvements in the capital, South Tarawa, already increasing bulk water supply by 20 percent.  It is also working with communities to build seawalls and has planted over 37,000 mangroves to protect coastlines.

We are also working with countries to put in place regional insurance schemes that can help strengthen immediate responses to natural disasters.

The leaders of the Pacific Island Forum will this week propose the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership, to galvanize a new wave of climate action. At this critical time in the history of the Pacific, it is essential the discussion goes beyond words and pledges and results in concrete actions and commitments, from all actors, to combat climate change. The World Bank Group stands ready to work with Pacific Island nations to meet this challenge.

The children of the Pacific deserve our best efforts so they can grow up to live on the same soil as their parents and grandparents.