Danger posed by climate change, alarming
At a speech in Noumea, (Cook Islands) Prime Minister Hon Henry Puna told delegates the danger imposed by climate change on the Cook Islands was alarming. Puna was one of two political leaders invited as special guests speakers for the 7th SPC Conference in Noumea which began on Monday. The conference theme was ‘Climate Change and Food Security – challenges and solutions in the Pacific Islands countries and territories.' Puna was joined by the Chair of the 7th Conference, Hon John Silk, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Republic of Marshall Islands. The President of New Caledonia, His Excellency Mr Harold Martin opened the conference, for Ministers from the 22 Pacific Island Countries and Territories including American Samoa, Tonga, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Samoa.
Statement by Hon. Henry Puna
In 2010, the Pacific Small Island Developing States five-year review of the Mauritius Strategy for Further Implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action for Sustainable Development of SIDS (MSI+5) found that since the Rio Meeting in 1992 our vulnerability has increased whilst our capacity to cope has not. This has been due in no small part to the additional pressures of climate change, climate variability and sea-level rise which have been compounded by the international fuel, food and financial crises. These new pressures have exacerbated those that were identified in 1992.
We share much in common. However, we each have our own particular challenges and opportunities, many of which stem from our largest shared resource, the Pacific Ocean. We have, are, and will continue forever to exist in a Blue World, the vast Pacific Ocean, which comprises over 95% of our sovereign territory and over which we have stewardship in the interest of the Global Commons.
Socially, the context of widespread small communities on generally small if not tiny islands provided, and still largely does provide, the basis for our traditional and cultural social fabric. The ocean feeds us (and a large part of the global community), it endangers us (cyclones, storm surges, and tsunamis), and underpins the many challenges we face (isolation from markets, high cost of imports and exports, cost of internal transport) and opportunities they have for economic development (tourism, fisheries, seabed minerals).
Pacific Leaders have stated quite clearly that climate change is singularly the biggest threat facing our region now and into the future. I fear a recent report I read about over the weekend that indicates that greenhouse gas emissions may exceed the worst case scenario of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report in 2007. Unfortunately, this report over the weekend indicates that the problem is pretty close to running away from us.
For over a decade the science tells us that without dramatic reductions in green house gas emissions the futures of our island nations is under threat. The current and impending impacts of climate change will affect every aspect of our very survival into the future.
The Cook Islands, like many of your countries has made great efforts to advance our data gathering, understanding and knowledge in order to enhance our preparedness to build our resilience to mitigate against disasters particularly now resulting from climate change. We are attempting to consider our vulnerabilities from national, regional and international perspectives, and quite frankly, what we have learnt is most alarming, and is going to require a concerted effort of those of us here today as well as many others in order to reduce the risks across our development agenda these vulnerabilities bring.
Colleagues, let me now highlight the issue of “The Level of Acceptable Risk”, and of course who is responsible for determining the level of acceptable risk. It is within this context of risk that I will address our collective task here at this 7th Conference of the SPC the them of which is “Climate Change and Food Security – Managing risks for sustainable development”. There is no such circumstance as “No Risk”. Having accepted that as a reality, the task at hand is to “Know Risk”. In other words it is our collective responsibility to work together to assemble all the necessary data and information leading to knowledge and a better understanding of risk, and ultimately the determination of the level of acceptable risk.
Who determines the level of acceptable risk? The answer of course differs around the region. For sure it is not the SPC’s responsibility. The SPC’s task is to provide the platform for informing all stakeholders, including through dialogue such as we are now engaged in here at this Conference.
The Cook Islands, like your countries and territories, recognise that to manage risks will require an integrated approach across the development agenda and significant and appropriate adaptation actions are required to respond to the challenges posed by climate change and food security. Without a doubt, our own Joint National Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction highlights the impacts of climate change on the livelihoods of our people including the impacts of climate change on Food Security and thereby resulting in disaster risk reduction.
While having a common reliance in the Pacific on our fragile and limited natural resources, the Cook Islands’ vulnerable sectors have some variation from the rest of the Pacific. In our case being the almost entire reliance of our livelihoods on a limited set of socio-economic activities led by tourism, pearl farming and especially subsistence agriculture and fisheries. These sectors in turn are proving to be most sensitive to current and anticipated parameters impacted by climate change including temperature increases, sea level rise, ocean acidity, changes in seasonal weather patterns and more frequent and intense extreme events including cyclones and droughts.
In July my Government hosted the 3rd Regional Integrated Water Resources Management Meeting organised by the SOPAC Division of the SPC. Our attention was drawn to the impacts not only of cyclones but also droughts on the security (or rather insecurity) of our fresh water supplies.
In November we hosted the international World Meteorological Climate and Fisheries workshop, which emphasised what we already knew – that climate influences where and how productive our fisheries are – but also brought together new research that suggests that our collective regional fishing practices can make the difference between whether our large ocean of resources can cope with climate change.
The big challenge it seems, is that we are not just facing one impact of climate change, but several in combination.
The declaration on 28th September of a State of Emergency by Tuvalu in response to extreme drought conditions on Nukulaelae and Funafuti and rapidly deteriorating conditions on other outer islands has provide an opportunity for us all to reflect on this matter of drought. We now know other islands including some in the Cook Islands are close to if not in fact near to a state of emergency.
Put simply, we need to do business better.
Agriculture in the Cook Islands has suffered frequently from the effects of droughts while farmers have also observed changes in the timing of harvesting. Many attribute this to changes in the climate, and in particular rainfall. Many of our farmers since the time of our ancestors have used phases of the moon and climate seasons - the Arapo – as an almanac calendar that guides fishing and planting activities. This Arapo knowledge that has been passed down to successive generations, now with climate change seems to be out of phase.
In regards to our reefs, I have been advised there are projections that we will reach a tipping point within the next 30-40 years after which our reefs will die permanently. The impact of this on our food security will be phenomenal and this is an unacceptable risk.
At the interface between the land and sea we are apprehensive about sea level rise causing salt water intrusion into growing areas, especially when combined with extreme events. For example, cyclones have destroyed entire taro plantation areas on our atoll islands of the Northern Cooks with the intrusion of saltwater into the groundwater lens. It takes many years before taro can again be reintroduced to the island.
Increases in air temperature and other climatic changes can also lead to increased incidence of pests and disease which are likely to threaten agriculture. An example of this is the potato white fly which has become a concern in the Cook Islands most likely as a result of periods of warmer wetter conditions. We are looking to the region to help us with biosecurity and research on controlling such outbreaks.
In an environment where it is not possible to get climate related private sector insurance for either extreme events with associated loss of income, or for slower onset loss of land and productivity, risk management and transfer options are key tools that will likely only be feasible with regional and international cooperation, especially from the SPC with its now very broad mandate across almost all sectors of development .
The Cook Islands continues to face a higher cost and burden for increasing impacts of climate change on food security. While addressing these impacts are a priority, there are other also extremely important and competing priorities, such as health and education.
Therefore we are in need of much greater, predictable and accessible, financial and technical support from our international partners to address this problem that is largely not of our doing, yet undermines our achievement of our development priorities. We have heard much about increasing climate finance but have not yet seen implementation on the ground.
We will also be taking this message to COP 17 in Durban this time next month. We will also be taking this message to the Rio+20 Meeting next June. In Rio we will be urging the world to recognise that the “Special Case” for SIDS has indeed not gone away though the context has changed over the past 20 years. Issues of isolation and lack of capacity remain as does the necessity that we are by endowment of Mother Nature required to do business in a Blue World. We need the support of all our partners to manage the risks in order to build our resilience and capacity to cope.
In concluding, my Government is moving toward a coordinated approach to addressing climate change through legislative, policy, and sector level activities, which in turn will assist the Cook Islands to cope with a changing climate. With others here today we look forward to seeing real progress in finding solutions, so our next meeting can focus on the challenges in implementing those solutions!