Climate change is ocean change. This is a reality that has escaped much of the world’s attention, but is daily life in the Pacific Islands. Today’s ocean is warmer and more acidic, sea levels are rising, and extreme flooding events are occurring more frequently, with dramatic and long-lasting impacts on life in the ocean and coastal communities. By the end of the century, most of the low-lying regions around the world may face adaptation limits as sea levels continue to rise.
Pacific Islanders are amongst the most aware of climate change. This is because we are the some of the most effected. In our lifetime, we have seen severe and increasingly frequent storms batter at our doors and witnessed the decline of the nature we depend on. From storm damage to bleached coral reefs, to droughts causing crop failures, we all have our story to share.
Climate change threatens not only our economy and wellbeing but also our identity as Pacific Islanders.
Climate change is here, and the world needs to act. Pacific Island nations and territories have long shared a sense of urgency to galvanise global action, action that is desperately needed for all our sakes. This need has driven forward a united Pacific voice that is unparalleled around the world and catalysed historic outcomes for nature and climate.
The Pacific Regional Oceanscape Framework is one of these outcomes, of which my organization – Conservation International – was a key thought partner. Unanimously endorsed by Pacific Island leaders in 2010, the Oceanscape provides the foundation for Pacific countries and territories to manage their coasts and oceans sustainably.
This has laid the foundation for some of the largest ocean management commitments on Earth, including New Caledonia’s Natural Park of the Coral Sea, the Cook Islands’ Marae Moana, and Kiribati’s Phoenix Islands Protected Area. Efforts are currently on going to secure national endorsement of Fiji’s Lau Seascape and Samoa’s Ocean Policy. Collectively these large marine managed areas are locally endorsed and make up over three million square kilometers of ocean, an area roughly the size of India.
THE ACTIONS OF THE PACIFIC TO PROTECT HUGE AREAS OF OCEAN HAS MADE THE WORLD REALISE THAT WE ARE NOT SMALL ISLAND DEVELOPING STATES BUT LARGE OCEAN STATES. OUR REGION IS LEADING THE WAY IN OCEAN MANAGEMENT THAT BUILDS RESILIENCE BY BALANCING PROTECTION WITH SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTION
Our recent research, carried out in partnership with regional partners including the Pacific Community, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement Office and the University of Wollongong, revealed that climate change will drive Pacific tuna populations out to sea, disrupting the economies of ten Pacific Island nations and territories*, reducing the tuna catch in their combined coastal waters by an average of 20% by 2050. These lower tuna catches could drive annual losses of between 8-17% in total government revenue for these nations and territories by 2050.
This redistribution of tuna is a climate justice issue. These nations and territories have a profound economic dependence on tuna fishing but contribute little to global warming. In contrast, nations responsible for 60% of historical greenhouse gas emissions would benefit from the tuna migration to the high seas.
As the globe’s attention turns to the most important international climate change summit since COP21, Pacific Island Leaders – our Pacific Champions –will again take the stage to call for climate action, climate justice, and ocean financing and investment to preserve their threatened home – the vast Pacific Ocean. They will bring our ideals and cultural traditions – moderation, respect, consensual dialogue, compromise, and inclusiveness to get the job done. Never has the world needed the Pacific Way more than now.
* The 10 Pacific Island nations and territories are: the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tokelau and Tuvalu.