Climate change could cause flooding in the world’s largest desert lake
Small island nations around the world are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis and their problems have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely affected their economies and their ability to protect themselves from possible extinction. We take a look at some of the many challenges they face and how they might be overcome.
Low emissions, but high exposure
The 38 Member States and 22 Associate Members that the UN has designated as Small Island Developing States or SIDS are caught in a cruel paradox: They are collectively responsible for less than one percent of global carbon emissions, but they are suffering severely. the effects of climate change, as they could become uninhabitable.
Although they have a small land mass, many of these countries are large ocean states, with marine resources and biodiversity at high risk to warming oceans. They are often vulnerable to increasingly extreme weather events, such as the devastating cyclones that have hit the Caribbean in recent years, and due to their limited resources, they find it difficult to allocate funds to sustainable development programs. that could help them cope better, for example, constructing more robust buildings that could withstand heavy storms.
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the economic situation of many island states, which depend heavily on tourism. The global crisis has drastically reduced international travel, making it much more difficult for them to repay their debts. “Their income has all but evaporated with the end of tourism, due to lockdowns, trade barriers, falling commodity prices and supply chain disruptions,” warned Munir Akram, chairman of the Economic Council. and social work of the United Nations in April. He added that their debts “create impossible financial problems for their ability to recover from the crisis”.
Most research indicates that islands in low-lying atolls, primarily in the Pacific Ocean, such as the Marshall Islands and Kiribati, are at risk of submerging by the turn of the century, but it looks like some islands will become uninhabitable as well. before it happens: the islands located are likely to fight coastal erosion, reduced freshwater quality and availability due to saltwater flooding of freshwater aquifers. This means that small island nations could find themselves in an almost unimaginable situation, where they run out of fresh water long before they run out of land.
In addition, many islands are still protected by reefs, which play a key role in the fishing industry and food balance. These reefs should disappear almost entirely unless we limit the warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Despite the huge decline in global economic activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of harmful greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere increased in 2002, and the last six years, 2015-2020, will likely be the six hottest ever.
Climate finance (climate specific financial support) continues to increase, reaching an annual average of $ 48.7 billion in 2017-18. This represents an increase of 10% compared to the previous period 2015-2016. While more than half of all climate-specific financial assistance during the period 2017-2018 was intended for mitigation actions, the share of adaptation assistance is increasing and is considered to be priority by many countries.
This is a cost-effective approach, because if not enough investment is made in adaptation and mitigation measures, more resources will need to be devoted to action and support to cope with the losses and damage.
Switch to renewable energies
SIDS depend on imported oil to meet their energy needs. In addition to creating pollution, transporting fossil fuels to the islands comes at a considerable cost. Recognizing these problems, some of these countries have successfully switched to renewable energy sources.
For example, Tokelau in the South Pacific meets nearly 100% of its energy needs through renewable energy, while Barbados in the Caribbean has pledged to supply the country with 100% renewable energy sources. and achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030.
Several SIDS have also set ambitious renewable energy targets: Samoa, the Cook Islands, Cabo Verde, Fiji, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Vanuatu aim to increase the share of renewables in their energy mix, 60 to 100%, while in 2018, Seychelles launched the world’s first sovereign blue bond, a pioneering financial instrument to support sustainable marine and fisheries projects.
The power of traditional knowledge
The centuries-old practices of indigenous communities, combined with the latest scientific innovations, are increasingly seen as important means to adapt to the changes brought about by the climate crisis and to mitigate its impact.
In Papua New Guinea, local residents use locally produced coconut oil as a cheaper and more sustainable alternative to diesel; seagoing ships across the islands of Micronesia and Melanesia in the Pacific use solar panels and batteries instead of internal combustion; mangrove forests are being restored on islands like Tonga and Vanuatu to cope with extreme weather conditions as they protect communities from storm surges and sequester carbon; and in the Pacific, a foundation is building traditional Polynesian canoes, or vakas, serving as a sustainable transport of passengers and goods for health services, education, disaster relief and research.
While SIDS have drawn the necessary attention to the plight of vulnerable nations, much remains to be done to help them become more resilient and adapt to a world of rising sea levels and extreme weather events.
On average, SIDS are more heavily indebted than other developing countries, and the availability of “climate finance” (the money that must be spent on a range of activities that will help slow climate change) is high. of utmost importance.
More than ten years ago, developed countries pledged to jointly mobilize $ 100 billion per year by 2020 to support climate action in developing countries; the amount these countries are receiving is increasing, but there is still a large funding gap. A recent feature article published by UN News explains how climate finance works and the role of the UN.
Beyond adaptation and resilience to climate change, SIDS also need support to help them thrive in an increasingly uncertain world. The United Nations, through its Development Program (UNDP), helps these vulnerable countries in many ways, so that they can successfully diversify their economies; improve energy independence by developing renewable sources and reducing dependence on fuel imports; create and develop sustainable tourism industries and move towards a “blue economy”, which protects and restores marine environments.
Fight for recognition
For years, SIDS have sought ways to raise awareness of their plight and gain international support. As the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) in 1990, they succeeded in having their special needs recognized in the text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) two years later.
Since then, countries have continued to insist that international agreements include a commitment to provide developing countries with the funds necessary to adapt to climate change. An important step was to ensure that climate change negotiations address the issue of ‘loss and damage’ (that is, things that are lost forever, such as human lives or loss of life). cash, while damage refers to things that are damaged, but can be repaired or restored, such as roads or dikes, etc.).
SIDS continue to urge developed countries to show greater ambition and commitment in tackling the climate crisis, and strongly support calls for a UN resolution to establish a legal framework to protect rights people displaced by climate change, and for the UN to appoint a Climate and Security Rapporteur, to help manage climate security risks and provide support to vulnerable countries to develop climate security risk assessments.
• SIDS also advocated for eligibility for development finance to recognize the vulnerabilities they face, including risks from climate change. The UN will publish its recommendations in a report to be released in August 2021.