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Jul 27, 2009

Kiribati and Tuvalu climate change strategy: total evacuation

Climate change is already having major effects on Pacific Island states, says a new report from Oxfam. Australia and New Zealand need to stop hoping the problem will go away.

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Climate change is already having major effects on Pacific Island states, according to a new report from Oxfam, which looked at mitigation and adaptation strategies in the region and assistance from Australia and New Zealand.

The report makes clear that Pacific States, which have long been identified as some of the most vulnerable nations in the world to climate change, are facing serious impacts already from rising sea levels, altered weather patterns and rising temperatures. In many cases the impacts are a consequence of multiple causes, including human activity such as logging.

Among the impacts identified in the report:

  • The Solomon Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia have all suffered major — in some cases historic — flooding or storm surges in the last twelve months, with loss of life, crop damage and, critically, damage to local infrastructure such as hospitals and roads.
  • Coral bleaching is becoming more widespread and regular in Tahiti, Palau and parts of Melanesia
  • Health impacts of rising temperatures are emerging: in PNG’s Western Highlands Province, the number of malaria cases increased eightfold between 2000-05
  • Coastal communities in Fiji are switching to salt-resistant staple crops because of the impact of tidal surges on soil quality, and planting mangroves and grasses to halt erosion and protect freshwater wells from salt. Relocation of homes and villages is also underway.
  • The seasonality of foods is changing, with some plants appearing earlier, and traditional wind patterns are being replaced with far more variable weather.
  • Villages are being repeatedly relocated as a consequence of storm surges and flooding, leading to searches for unused land to relocate entire communities. The Malaita provincial government in the Solomon Islands is looking for land to resettle people from low-lying outer atoll.
  • The Government of Kiribati has prepared a long-term training plan to make its people’s skills more “marketable” in other countries to assist in international relocation.
  • Nations such as Tuvalu are already debating what the entire evacuation of their country will mean for its national identity — and issues such as its economic exclusion zone and UN seat.

A simultaneous report from the Australia Institute has criticised the level of Australian support for Pacific states in addressing climate change. The Rudd Government has committed $150m in funding for the region for adaptation projects, after years of climate change denial from the Howard Government, which insisted on portraying the regional through a national security “arc of instability” lens. While welcoming the Australian assistance, Oxfam suggests up to $300m a year is needed to establish serious adaptation programs, as well as a genuine commitment to keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees.

Both Oxfam and the Australia Institute note that Australia (and New Zealand) appear unwilling to develop a strategy for, or even discuss, forced migration among the Pacific’s 8 million people. The Institute reports that Department of Immigration officials as recently as October last year were explaining the lack of planning for displacement of Pacific people by climate change on the basis that mitigation was the key to addressing climate change, followed by “internal relocation” and international resettlement as a last resort.

As the Oxfam report shows, internal relocation is occurring already. It will almost certainly lead to greater internal tensions as disputes over access to land and water grow between displaced and settled communities. A number of states are politically fragile enough without the added problem of internal refugees.

All of these states face the double problem of being among the first exposed to the impacts of climate change — like Australia — but unlike us have very limited resources to deploy in mitigation and adaptation strategies, and are more vulnerable to internal tensions as the need to relocate communities in a heavily agriculture-dependent economy increases.

However, Australia and New Zealand both appear to be hoping the issue of international resettlement somehow goes away, and do not appear to have even focussed on how they will assist regional governments in dealing with the problems generated by internal relocation. But as the dominant powers of the region and the most likely destinations for people displaced by rising seas and vanishing resources, they don’t have a choice.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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28 comments

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28 thoughts on “Kiribati and Tuvalu climate change strategy: total evacuation

  1. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    “Australia has suffered enough”? “God have mercy”?
    Can we stay on the same planet please. The sky is not falling in and the world has a few resources left. Care and share.

  2. Tom

    I seriously hope we don’t have to take these guys in when their countries disappear. Surely Australia has suffered enough from its current level of 3rd world refugees.

  3. Tom McLoughlin

    If Oxfam and Australia Institute are right even to a limited degree, it calls up the real risk according to standard insurance principles of 100 million plus refugees on the move this century from Bangladesh, Burma and Thailand to Shanghai. If tippings points come into play, and they will, its earlier this century, not 2090.

    Of course like the good expatriate folk of Singapore in 1939 and 1940 we could all just go on over consuming, having western style parties making us fatter (which one POW called ‘Rosie’ wrote about actually), and deny ‘the invasion’ meaning climate change massive disruption will ever arrive. And suffer infamous misery like those POW chaps because complacent arrogant colonialists believed ‘it will never happen’.

    The lesson of history: Like then militaristic Japanese invasion of Singapore there’s a first time for everything. Time for us fat westerners to get on the tread mill and get in shape on energy usage and coherent global policy on emissions before it’s too late regarding 100M plus refugees are on the move. God have mercy.

  4. craftem

    I agree with DJH… argue all you want about the causes but don’t let the lack of scientific proof deny the islanders a new home because theirs is falling away beneath them. I lived in Kiribati for 2.5 years. We had no rain for months and months and months; the coconut trees were dieing. Some places on the islands are so skinny that it’s hard, if even possible to dig a well that has drinkable water. People grow taro root to use for big celebrations. It takes about 5 years to get the plant fully matured; if any sea water enters the taro pit years of work is wiped out. High tides come up and wash away roads, houses, the island.
    I’m not a science person. I can’t tell you what is causing all of this. But I do have a conscience and I know that these people should be helped because their home is becoming unlivable.

  5. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Crap JamesK. High school geography taught you that sea levels have been stable around about the present level for around 6-8,000 years – give or take. 1-3mm per year will get you 1-3 metres per millenium which clearly has not been happening. You do the maths.

  6. JamesK

    There is a famous Derek&Clive (Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) sketch called ‘Cancer’ which ridicules the fatalistic fear the aforementioned disease had on the psyche of the average punter.

    Bernard Keane joins Tony Jones in the avant-garde of this neo McCarthyistic fearmongering.

    The sea level rise has been between 1-3mm/yr (depending on who you believe) for over a century and probably some millenniae with no evidence of any increase in the rate.

    But Bernard won’t allow the facts get in the way of some ‘healthy’ scaremongering for the benefit of the stupid masses who need to be ‘prodded’ in order to do the ‘right’ thing.

    For a completely contrary view from another ‘journalist’:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/5067351/Rise-of-sea-levels-is-the-greatest-lie-ever-told.html

    What evidence is presented here that storm surges in the Pacific are due to AGW (or AGCC now that there has been no noticeable warming this century)?

    A report from Oxfam!

  7. scottyea

    Good point, JDH,

    Is the fixation on causation a way of avoiding responsibility??????

    I mean, look at the variables!

  8. D. John Hunwick

    While all the comments deal with the cause (or not) of the plight of the islanders, no one is really looking at the problem – regardless of the cause. People are goiong to lose their homes and territories – it is already starting to happen – it is already measurable. So – what does Australia (and NZ and others) do about it? I for one want to see that our country take a fair proportion of “refugees” (from flooding -whatever the cause) and plan for their arrival and reception. UNless all those arguing about the cause are ready to lend a helping hand then their point of view withers in front of the need for humanity and compassion You argue, the rest of us want a sensible plan in place to deal with people facing an impossible situation.

  9. MichaelT

    Ok – let’s have some more facts: Average number of hot days jumped suddenly from 2000 – 2005, and then declined for the 3 years following. What can we conclude from that? Anything?

    See: http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/silo/reg/cli_chg/extreme_timeseries.cgi

  10. Stevo the Working Twistie

    there is absolutely no proof that having another beer will make me hungover tomorrow. There are so many other factors, such as how much sleep I have, what I eat and how much of it, how much water I drink before I go to bed, whether I remember to have a Berocca. F*ck you pseudo-scientists and your panic tactics, I’m gonna have another, and another. then I’ll weigh up the objective facts and have another.

  11. DoilyHead

    @ Evan. Well, from what I understand it’s temperature differences in regions of the ocean which give cyclones their power, not temperature magnitude. So, global warming might not give rise to scarier cyclones.

    @ Pamala: “Why are fires raging in Europe as they raged in Oz but a few months ago?

    Why why why?”

    Yes Pamala, why indeed? Are you assuming that Global Warming does this? Temperature is a factor, but so are available fuel, winds and moisture. There are many factors. Plus, a warmer globe would result in more rain not less.

    @ The OXFAM brochure : “Projected sea-level rise and increases in the intensity of natural disasters like cyclones will exacerbate these problems. Scientists have also projected an increase in diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, together with significant soil and coastal erosion as a result of climate change … Australia and New Zealand must reduce their emissions by at least 40% by 2020, and at least 95% by 2050.”

    The glossy brochure from OXFAM says that there are many vulnerabilities of Pacific Islanders to climate and weather and admits that they are natural and have always existed. But no evidence is presented that there is a mass exodus coming from the islands now nor that there are events occurring now that can be attributed to human carbon dioxide emissions. The references offer nothing new to the well-aired claims from “scientists” about theoretical events … the could be would be should be possible sea level rises happening maybe in the very near to mid-term future or possibly longer.

    The IPCC invents positive feedback mechanisms to amplify the effect of CO2 in their models. But history shows that the Earth has an incredible negative feedback temperature control, a thermostat that varies but has stayed within reasonable limits for life to exist for 3.5 billion years.

    A lot of people make their living from impending doom and gloom and disaster. But you’ve got low sun spot activity and rising CO2 levels with no accompanying rise in average temps. Another few years and the climate change industry could be wrapped up, hence the need to “act now”.

    I think the climate is going mental. The primary causes are natural like the sun or volcanoes but could we be contributing to the vulnerability to these primary causes by deforesting the land and polluting the oceans? These are all bigger factors than human CO2 emissions, surely.

  12. Mr Squid

    i recommend that people stop and think for a moment about our own torres strait islanders, many of whom live on low-lying mud islands and coral cays, as well as along the shoreline of their volcanic islands. they are already in deep trouble from king tides, storm surges and torrential rain.

    any rise in sea level will wipe them off the map.

    no govt that i can recall, has done one single solitary thing to lessen the risk to them.

    no government has the remotest idea about baseline data such as mean sea level around the islands (the nature of the wind, tides, currents and a whole lot of other factors in the straits means that you need to know the specifics around each island) on which to base predictions and any activity that they might eventually get around to taking.

    the most basic data, such as the location and height of each island is inaccurate, out of date and totally useless.

    these are the voiceless, defenceless people that turnbull, joyce, fielding and the rest of the denialist lunatics are happy to make the first australian victims of climate change.

    when did you last see turnbull, joyce or fielding visiting the torres straits?

  13. AR

    How come none of the denialists above mentioned last year’s favourite theory of their US counterparts, the sea isn’t rising, it’s those damn islands that are sinking (possibly coz they’re overloaded with unproductive consumption units) and anyway it’s not AGW coz the outer planets (where the aforementioned RWDBs apparently spend so much time) are also warming. QED.

  14. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    So, sea level, all over the world, is/has/was increasing at 3.2mm per year since 1993 but might be “moderating” – which presumably means it maybe isn’t going so gangbusters at the moment. But still….. 15 years at 3.2mm is close to 50mm which is not an insignificant amount. Is it a fact? Does it count Mama? Should we notice or should we look the other way?
    Ditto atmospheric CO2. Seems to be increasing. Increase seems to be irrefutable though the cause and effect is debatable. Is it a fact? Is there a connection between the two apparently irrefutable facts? Are you still there Mama?

  15. scottyea

    Who cares what’s causing it? Is it really important?

    OK, say that your personal survival and happiness depends on knowing the cause of it, John.

    Looking at it while squinting, its pretty easy to see that there’s going to be no clear consensus on what is causing it. That’s a fact. So what then? What would you do if you could conclude that you will NEVER know what the cause of it is? Ever. Huh?

    What would you do???

  16. john2066

    Hey there ‘Most Peculiar’, just a quick question for you:

    Last summer in Victoria we had the hottest day ever, smashing all previous records by a massive margin, plus an unprecedented extended heatwave which killed 400 people. Victoria’s in now a 14 year drought.

    You say its not AGW.

    What. Is. Causing. It?

  17. Most Peculiar Mama

    “…Have a look at the Storm Surge article on Wiki for a start. ..”

    Evan, that you would rely fact-challenged cyber-rag Wikipedia as your information ‘source’ says more about you than you probably would like.

    Do you even know the difference between weather and climate?

    Even Al Gore was PWNED by the NOAA for lying about the ‘link’ between a single WEATHER event and alleged man-made climate change.

    As your AGW ‘theory’ is further dismantled, why do you continue to struggle with the insurmountable evidence that you are wrong?

    It appears to be quite clear, you are the one in denial.

  18. MichaelT

    Can we correct this hysterical discussion please with a bit of data?

    According to the University of Colorado graph, sea level rise has averaged 3.2 mm a year since 1993. Yes, that’s right – 3.2 MILLIMETRES a year. Is this really a climate catastrophe leading to total evacuation of the islands??

    Yes, alarmists predict the rate will increase, but that is hypothetical, not actual, and since 2006 it has in fact shown a tendency to moderate even further.

    See: http://sealevel.colorado.edu/current/sl_noib_global.pdf

  19. scottyea

    Dot points!! OMG, everybody PANIC!!!

    No, really, The progression of these climate change trends will test our Western liberal ethic to the extreme. Do we ‘all’ really have the ‘right’ to happiness etc., or is it just ‘us’ – Australians/whiteys/etc.?

    The GFC has a) concentrated wealth at a quickened pace, and b) given Government a Lot More Power. What will all this change mean to our Pacific Island neighbors?

    The Govts stance on boat people shows how that might pan out. …

  20. Stuart Moore

    Simple what natural compaction of an open coralline structure on the top of a seamount (underwater rise/volcano for the uninitiated) does to the relationship between the top of the atoll and the water level, isn’t it? One has to wonder why certain ‘specialists’ blatantly ignore the impact on the local (island) environment, and disruption of the coral accretion (growth) processes, by human pressures. These island atolls kept pace with ocean levels for millennia, until the growth points at the water surface were disrupted (just like a palm tree!). It is very difficult to accept dramatic sea level rises at several isolated mid-ocean islands when the change in true sea level around the globe generally, excluding isostatic adjustments, is the better part of buckleys and none. By the way, climatic variation is an ongoing cyclical process that has been going on since the earth was formed and independent of carbon dioxide. Time is the key….. look at what has gone before and realise that current events are not unusual 😉

  21. Evan Beaver

    I’ve got no idea what Mama is on about.

    James, I’m actually guessing a bit, but here’s the logic. Average tides are measured as the mean between high and low tide. Someone reports that ‘the average has increased by XXmm’. I’m not sure if that means both the min and max increase by XX, or if the range spreads a bit more; that the increase is percentile, meaning that if the number is bigger, then the increase is bigger. I’ve never actually bothered looking into it.

    But on the cyclones, this is a very well understood phenomenon. Have a look at the Storm Surge article on Wiki for a start. The bigger the cyclone, the lower the low pressure system and higher the wind. Local low pressure makes the sea locally higher, on-shore winds pile the water up against the shore. Add all this together and more things are under water.

  22. James Bennett

    Hey Evan,

    How does a small sea level rise get amplified by big tides and a super-duper cyclone ?

    Wouldn’t a 6inch rise in sea level just result in a 6inch increase in the effect that a big tide and a big cyclone would have anyway ?

    And if so , So What ?

  23. Most Peculiar Mama

    Why why why?

    Are they Pamela?

    You believe what you want to believe. Others deal in facts.

    Please provide evidence to support your ‘observations’.

    “Give it to me straight, are we all going to die or not? Yes or no?”

    Dear Evan, always with a sense of the over-dramatic…a regular Sarah Bernhardt, eclipsed only by your arrogance.

    If Noah was building a Climate Ark you’d be pushing to the front insisting on being taken aboard, however the answer to your question is an emphatic NO.

  24. Evan Beaver

    While I think Mama is a complete birk, he/she/bot does raise an interesting point, albeit very badly.

    Sure, these things are happening, they’re proper observations and are indisputable. Their cause though is up for debate. Long term farming trends changing are a fairly reliable indicator, but gross sea level is not. It is possible that the increase in (at least some) of these incidents is improved record keeping. As the accuracy of our observations has improved with time, it is difficult to say with any certainty that this isn’t just ‘noise’. Sea level hasn’t gone up very much at all (yet), so it’s difficult to imagine huge instances of land loss. However, the double whammy of a small sea level rise (which would be amplified at the Big Tides) and a bigger than normal Tropical Cyclone would lead to much worse events on land.

    My point is that causation is incredibly difficult to detail with proper science. As an old mate used to say “science is good at what, not why.” I would rather see these organisations use more reserved language such as ‘it appears that…’ or ‘a possible cause is’. The sceptics are jumping all over the absolutes in the CC discussions when the truth is that it is, and always will be, a numbers game, an enormous statistical mechanics problem where the whole world plays. Problem is, the media, and their reading public don’t understand this sort of language, and require the debate be bought to the lowest common denominator (the Tele).

    “Give it to me straight, are we all going to die or not? Yes or no?”

  25. Andrew Frost

    Andrew Bolt doesn’t believe this is happening – so it isn’t. Take that ocean levels!

  26. Pamela

    So why are the islands disappearing Mama?
    Why is the sea invading the land- do tell please?
    Why are fires raging in Europe as they raged in Oz but a few months ago?
    Why why why?

  27. Most Peculiar Mama

    Not ONE of the ‘impacts’ above ascribed to ‘climate change’ by climate ‘experts’ “OxFam” can be attributed to ‘climate change’.

    There is no evidence linking any of these ‘events’ to chnages in carbon emissions, amospheric temperatures or changes in sea level. None.

    Surprise, surprise that the (simultaneous [LOL]) conjoined cacophony of impending apocalypse by the always impartial Australia Institute recommends WE DO SOMETHING…NOW!!!!!

    The desperation shown here by the ‘Warming Club’ is set to eclipse Fawlty Towers as the greatest comedy of all time.

  28. Jim Reiher

    What a pity Senator Fielding did not visit Karibati when he was looking for evidence for climate change. I guess he can pretend that those 30 islands that have no land higher than 2 meters above sea level, don’t exist either! In fact, give them a few decades, and many of them wont. (Two of their islands disappeared into the sea in the late 1990’s). The 100,000 people on those islands are already struggling. Soil is being contaminated by the rising tides and the salt is destroying their coconut trees that are affected by those rising tides.

    Some of our politicians need to get out of the “board rooms” and the “conservative think tanks”, and roll their sleeves up and visit some of these places. Might do them wonders. And just might help make a real difference.

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