Island Nations and the Burden of Climate Change
Though Karla wrote about a great blog entry about climate change a few months back, the topic is on my mind and in the news. Yesterday, the Pacific Islands Forum convened in Cairns, Australia. This article details how leaders of seven small island nations met in advance of the forum to express their concerns over the immediate threats related to climate change, and to urge leaders of developed nations to take an aggressive stance in slashing greenhouse emissions.
I recently compiled a list of the threats that small islands face due to climate change. The threats range from the obvious - coastal inundation, intrusion of salt water into fresh water drinking supplies and crops, extreme weather events - to the less obvious, yet still potentially devastating effects - damaged crops and unpredictable harvest rates, decline in fish populations due to coral bleaching and mangrove loss, increase in vector-borne diseases such as dengue and malaria, economic insecurity and decreased tourism revenue, and cultural tensions as communities are forced to relocate. On a visit to Seacology projects in Yap, Micronesia in 2007, local leaders told me of their worries regarding the likely migration of communities from an outer atoll to the main island, where resources are already stretched. While in Vanuatu in June 2009, residents spoke of disappeared coastal landmarks and boundaries, inundated by sea water.
The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), comprised of 43 states and observers, has been at the forefront of efforts to shape international climate policy. According to Greenpeace, China and the US are responsible for 40 percent of the world's carbon emissions. In the meantime, for tiny island nations like Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, the enormous problems wrought by climate change are not just hypothetical.
In researching the effects of climate change on small island nations, I became quite discouraged at the enormity of the problems. We obviously all need to make changes in our personal consumption patterns and habits, though that can seem incredibly insignificant in the face of the issue's scale. In the meantime, leaders of small island states continue to send an important message to international policy-makers regarding the hardships already faced by island communities due to climate change.People often ask what Seacology does to help island peoples in the face of climate change. Though we can't stop the sea from rising or prevent devastation from storms (I'm fairly certain no NGO can do that!), what we *can* do is direct and simple, such as fund water storage and purification systems (at left, a Seacology-funded water storage tank in Mitiaro, the Cook Islands), provide sturdy community centers that can be used as emergency shelters, build medical clinics, etc. While leaders from island nations are working tirelessly to influence international policy, small island communities are deeply concerned about their natural environments. Seacology makes a difference by partnering with these villages to improve day-to-day village conditions, while protecting vital habitats and species. If only slowing climate change were as simple....