Implications of climate change and sea-level rise for small island nations of the South Pacific: A regional synthesis | The Meteorological Society of New Zealand

Implications of climate change and sea-level rise for small island nations of the South Pacific: A regional synthesis

J. Hay
C. Kaluwin
N. Koop

The global warming resulting from human induced emissions of greenhouse gases is of great concern to Pacific Island nations. It may lead to sea-level rise, changing rainfall patterns, increased incidence of extreme events such as tropical cyclones, extinction of species unable to adapt to habitat and related changes, and disruption of ecosystems. Owing to their physiographic, ecological and sociocultural characteristics, South Pacific Island countries are also particularly vulnerable to the inherent variations in climate (including extreme events) and therefore to human induced climate change. Agriculture, other life-sustaining activities and tourism will be especially affected. The potential for damage to the physical, economic and social viability of island nations is profound Limitations of size, the narrow resource base and the high dependency on coastal areas, severely restricts their capacity to adapt to any intensification of natural disasters. The very survival of low-lying atoll nations, under worst case global change scenarios, is in doubt. Sea-level rise and increased storm activity would affect not only coastline stability but would destroy the freshwater lenses. Loss of groundwater-dependent subsistence cropping could render these islands uninhabitable. Concerns over threats and a perception that climate change events are occurring with increasing frequency and intensity has a psychosocial toll even whilst the scientific debate continues as to how climate change may manifest in the region. The vulnerability of Small Island States is all the more poignant considering they are among those who contribute least to the process and are largely without means to influence it. Island societies are increasingly being driven to adopt western technologies and are critically influenced by their effects. However, their requisite knowledge and skills base is very poor. The basic western education level of the population is low and illiteracy is high. Education and training in science and technology has been generally low in priority and poor in quality. Educated individuals often relocate and there is a heavy dependency on expatriate expertise - thus knowledge is continually lost from the region. The wide-reaching implications of climate change and sea-level rise call for improved regional coordination and integration of national and local concerns, needs and capacities. This implies enhancement of national level capacity and greater local influence over outcomes. Top down coordination and international support should be integrated with more bottom up development of policies and response strategies. Several generic adaptation policies are proposed, with an emphasis on allowing for a balance of international, national and local input to policy development.

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