Oct 22, 2017 Last Updated 8:27 AM, Oct 20, 2017

BIG DRY

Rising bill of PNG’s El Nino disaster

EL Nino battered Papua New Guinea is bracing for more serious onslaught with predictions for worse in months ahead and into next year. The El Nino extreme weather has peaked across the country resulting in lower than normal rainfall, with rivers and dams drying up causing water shortages, lower crop yields, food shortages and big impacts on the country’s all important mining industry.

Almost two million people have been affected by this extreme weather, representing more than a quarter of PNG’s 7.8 million population. Of the number affected,1,303,000 people are classed as being in the most at risk, category four, drought. Those affected severely were mainly from Highlands part of the country who have faced months without food from local gardens after being destroyed by frosts, schools and health institutions shutting down due to lack of water, destruction of wild fires on properties and health related diseases arising from the dry weather conditions increasingly rife.

It has also forced the closer of Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) gold and copper mine in Western Province, as a result of low water levels on the Fly River, which is used to transport copper concentrate to Port Moresby. The temporary closure of the Ok Tedi mine could potentially last for up to a year with the loss of mining income could be as much as K2.77 billion (US$974,046m) a year.

The PNG Government has scrambled to cobble together K5 million (US$1.8m) to help those affected but the PNG Disaster Centre has indicated more money would be needed as the weather conditions intensified. The National Weather Service said the country should brace itself for the El Nino which could last until the middle of 2016.

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Training, acceptance to boost profits

Conventional logging delivers a body blow to forests by stripping 80 to 90 per cent of target tree species. This shock erodes biodiversity, damages ecological function and contributes to climate change. Sustainable forest management (SFM), on the other hand, can profit landowners and deliver valuable timbers to market with minimised disturbance to ecosystems.

A project spanning more than 20 years on Fiji’s Viti Levu that has recently come to fruition is proving the point. It also shows the potential for sustainable forestry to coexist with conservation regimes that offer potentially lucrative royalties through the international REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) mechanism. In 1989, Fiji’s forestry department with financial support from the German Government leased 309 hectares of virgin forest in Nakavu.

Designated as the Natural Forest Management Pilot Project the site was comprehensively mapped and divided into lots that received different logging treatments. Some plots were intentionally left untouched, some were logged using conventional methods, and the remainder were logged at ‘light’ (15 per cent), ‘medium’ (33 per cent) or ‘heavy’ (50 per cent) intensities using the principles of SFM.

The mapping and logging operation was finished by 1994 and the forest remained undisturbed for 20 years, permitting regrowth. In 2013, a comprehensive scientific study began elucidating comparative results between the different forest treatment methods. It examined biodiversity and ecological function, forest carbon stock, and further log harvest potential.

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Light at the end of climate change tunnel

Monday 19 November saw a Pacific High-Level Dialogue on climate change take place at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) headquarters in Noumea, New Caledonia. The principal guest was Francoise Hollande, President of France, who attended the dialogue to discuss the pressing issue of climate change with leaders from the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Niue, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and other Pacific nations. The dialogue was an historic occasion on the road to the crucially important Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Paris in December 2015. Referred to as ‘COP 21’ this meeting expects to see the international community commit to new, legally binding targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The importance of this process for humanity and for the Pacific region especially cannot be understated. Not one to mince his words, SPC’s Director-General, Colin Tukuitonga, told the gathering in Noumea: ‘COP 21 needs to deliver appropriate commitments to support developing countries with extreme vulnerability and very limited capacity to cope. Failure to do so will basically relegate the Pacific to oblivion. For us, here, climate change is a very real and very human emerging crisis.

We must aim for at least a 40 per cent reduction in global emissions by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2060 if we are to have any hope of containing climate change to manageable levels. Under the Kyoto Protocol, industrialised nations committed to modest binding emission reduction targets. But the reality is that global emissions are now 30 per cent higher than they were when Kyoto was signed,’ he said. President Hollande saw light at the end of the tunnel. France will chair the upcoming COP 21 and he is determined to achieve a robust outcome. Speaking in Noumea, he said, ‘I am here because the situation is urgent and we must be successful, this is an appeal for mobilisation that I am launching.’

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Technology predicts catastrophe

More than 3000 people displaced by coastal flooding and large sections of Vanuatu’s two main towns inundated is the catastrophic scenario predicted by the end of the century. Coastal flooding is expected to reach disastrous levels in 90 years with the risk increasing significantly with current sea levels already affecting Vanuatu. This is the dire prediction from the Vanuatu Meteorology Services(VMS) and is based on the latest technology available. In a partnership between the Australian and Vanuatu Governments, the latest technology has been employed to look at the vulnerable coastal areas of Vanuatu.

A VMS spokesman said in these areas there is now an urgent need to better understand risks from sea level rise, coastal erosion and extreme events. The technology involved the collection of high resolution topographic and bathymetric data through Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology which was deployed for priority areas in Vanuatu – Efate, Malekula and Espiritu Santo.

He said that LiDAR is an optical remote sensing technology that provides extremely accurate, high resolution elevation data. Airborne LiDAR measures distances (and therefore height or depth) by sending a pulse of light from a laser scanner towards the area being surveyed. It then measures how long it takes for the light pulse to return. For establishing what is at risk in the coastal areas, this data is critical as it measures inundation levels, catchment boundaries and water flow.

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US Government offers $100,000

High tide energised by storm surges flooded many parts of Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, on 3 March — the latest in a series of inundation events that have hit this north Pacific atoll nation in recent years. Two flooding incidents last year, including one that knocked down portions of the international airport protective seawall, flooding the runway and closing the airport for a day, and last month’s flooding have fortunately resulted in no serious injuries or deaths.

But they have caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage and left hundreds homeless for short periods of time, forcing the government to intervene with emergency aid. Pacific climate researchers believe these high tide floods will increase in “frequency and magnitude” in the coming years. “We consider it to be our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know,” said a climate report issued in mid-March by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, and responding now will lower the risk and cost of taking action.”

The ongoing flooding events in the Marshall Islands are putting the government on the spot with increasing costs for emergency response. It also underlines the need for — and current lack of — zoning rules in atoll urban centers, where local residents have built on marginal pieces of land within centimetres of the high water mark, placing themselves at risk. The flooding on 3 March hit around 4am with no warning. Ocean surges churned up by a storm to the east of Japan coincided with the high tide, flooding many of the lowest-lying areas on the eastern coast of Majuro. The high tide also impacted several other outer atolls. Alson Kelen, who lives on Ejit, a small island in Majuro Atoll, said he was awoken at 4am by “people screaming outside my house. They were freaking out because this is the highest king tide we’ve ever experienced.”

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