The Future is Equal

Archives for October 8, 2018

Political leaders must wake up to the danger of climate change

Cyclone Winston devastated Fiji in 2016, including the village of Nayavutoka, in Ra province. The local church, pictured, served as emergency shelter for the whole community during the ferocious storm. Photo: Alicja Grocz/Oxfam

Two and a half years ago I sat barricaded inside my home in Fiji, listening to a ferocious wind travelling at an average speed of 230 kilometres an hour.

Over the howl of the wind I could hear trees crashing down outside. I didn’t know how long the storm was going to last. I didn’t know where the next tree would fall.

When the wind finally eased, I ventured outside to see if my neighbours were OK; to see if their houses were still standing. I’ll never forget that feeling.

Cyclone Winston was the biggest cyclone ever to make landfall in the Southern Hemisphere. The devastating storm left 44 people dead and 350,000 people, almost 40% of Fiji’s population, were affected. Total damage and losses from Winston are estimated at $1.42 billion: equivalent to nearly a third of Fiji’s GDP.

Anyone who’s been watching the news recently knows that Cyclone Winston wasn’t a one off. Already this year we’ve witnessed killer storms raging around the world from the Philippines to the USA, wreaking death and destruction.

Today marks a seminal moment in efforts to tackle climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change produced its first major report in four years outlining what’s going to happen if the world allows average temperatures to increase more than 1.5 degrees Centigrade.

Here in the Pacific Islands, we don’t need climate scientists to tell us what the impacts of climate change will be. We’re already experiencing them. We’re no longer talking about the future; people are already fighting for their lives against disasters intensified by climate change.

Most of us who are being battered by climate change are based in some of the world’s poorest countries. At Oxfam, we understand well the ruthless inequality of climate change: poor communities are five times more likely to be displaced by extreme weather than rich ones.

For us, rising seas, combined with more intense storms, are increasing coastal erosion and inundation. By one estimate, in the long term, sea-level rise resulting from 2°C of warming could submerge land across the world that is currently home to 280 million people.

The world’s atoll nations face a truly existential threat from sea-level rise; for us, our lives and our very way of life, is in the balance.

Take the situation my fellow Pacific Islanders in Kiribati face as an example. Kiribati is a large ocean state comprised of 32 atolls and one raised coral island, spread across more than a million square miles of the central Pacific Ocean, and with a population of approximately 110,000.

Almost the entire land area of Kiribati, including the whole of the main population centre of South Tarawa, lies less than three metres above sea level. Kiribati is considered one of the most vulnerable countries on earth to the impacts of climate change.

The nation’s people, the I-Kiribati, fear not only the loss of their livelihoods and security but also the impact of displacement on their culture and identity, sovereignty, and deep connection to their land and sea.

Tinaai Teaua, a member of Kiribati Climate Action Network, told Oxfam: “Land is very important. We can’t leave. We don’t want to leave. This is our home and this is our land. We should stay here. But the problem is getting closer and closer. My message to the world [is] to look at us. What our culture is like. How we are so proud of being I-Kiribati. The main message is to limit warming to 1.5°C. That was already agreed, but now they have to live up to their words.”

The case of Kiribati highlights the need for stronger international action to minimise the impacts of climate change and provide greater support to vulnerable communities. The loss of homes, livelihoods and ancestral lands through displacement epitomises the human cost and the grave injustice of climate change.

Today’s IPCC report is expected to echo the existing consensus that if global warming is to be limited to 1.5°C then concerted, bold, global action is required. Some of the world’s poorest and low emitting countries are now leading the climate fight – including Fiji and the Marshall Islands who recently committed to reduce their emissions to net zero by 2050. It’s time for all rich countries to follow suit and show how they’ll clean up their emissions and reduce their net greenhouse gas emission to net zero within a generation. No excuses.

It’s the laws and targets set by rich countries which will determine the future of the world’s poorest people. Countries like New Zealand have a moral obligation to lead the way.

How many more ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ storms will it take before our leaders face up to what’s going on and act? For too long, too many countries have talked a good game when it comes to climate change, but failed to deliver concrete action.

As many of us know all too well: climate change is eating away shores and flooding homes. It’s leaving farmland bone-dry, shattering the lives of millions who did virtually nothing to cause it. It’s simply unconscionable to leave poor communities alone to deal with disasters they did not create.

The way that New Zealand, and the rest of the international community, responds to climate change is a litmus test for our humanity. It’s a test we can’t afford to fail.

By Raijeli Nicole, Oxfam in the Pacific regional director. 

Rising temperatures jeopardise life as we know it unless governments take swift action: Oxfam

Commenting on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report on limiting warming to 1.5C released today, Oxfam New Zealand Executive Director Rachael Le Mesurier said:

“Climate change has set our planet on fire, millions are already feeling the impacts, and the IPCC just showed that things can get much worse. This landmark report shows us just how much more ambitious we must be to survive. Currently, the world is on track to reach 3C of warming. But at this level, human civilisation would be in jeopardy and life as we know it will no longer exist.

“We already have first degree burns from monster storms, devastating floods, and brutal droughts, and this is just the beginning. Across the Pacific, people are already finding it harder to grow their crops and get clean water to drink. They are being forced to leave their homes because the sea is flooding their villages and towns.

“Despite communities’ resilience and efforts to adapt, the force of climate change will make it harder to survive and many will be forced to uproot and seek new land to live on.

“And yet it is the countries that are the hardest hit and least responsible, who are boldly taking the lead on increased ambition. It’s time for us all to stand with them to embrace the renewable revolution, scale up support to brace for impact, and enable the poorest among us to not only survive but thrive.

“The report shows that limiting warming to 1.5°C – a matter of survival for many of our Pacific neighbours – would see substantially less impacts globally than warming of 2°C. For example, it would halve the number of people expected to suffer water scarcity and see significantly less impact on crop yields and fisheries, fewer deaths from extreme heat and millions fewer people forced from their homes by rising sea levels.

“We can limit warming to 1.5C. Our best hope is to act swiftly and inclusively: the more we do in the next 10 years, the fewer trade-offs we face and the more lives we save.

“The New Zealand government has shown great leadership. Our government is preparing its Zero Carbon Bill, has halted future off-shore oil and gas exploration, embraced renewable energy, joined the Carbon Neutrality Coalition and the High Ambition Coalition, and is expanding funding for climate change action in the Pacific.

“But as a country, we must also act ambitiously and forthrightly as we negotiate the rule-book for the Paris Declaration. New Zealand must match its words with its actions by pushing for a framework that is transparent, and that works for our Pacific neighbours.

“In New York recently our Prime Minister talked of the importance of kaitiakitanga – guardianship – for our current and future generations. She also highlighted how climate change was humanity’s greatest challenge.

“New Zealand must not hesitate or stand back from this challenge.”


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