The photo above represents the ideal partnership between developed and developing nations working together to preserve traditional island culture.
- Together, both women, one from Germany and the other a native Fijian, represent the island’s travel industry. Their sign references a quote from the Fiji’s prime minister’s inspiring speech at the beginning of the conference, which highlighted the urgency and importance of climate action. Both women are in attendance at COP 23 to advocate for protecting Fiji’s beauty for all the island inhabitants and its future visitors.
Pacific Islanders are Holding Their Breath for Climate Action
Did you know that 52 nations could disappear under the sea within your lifetime? Pacific Island communities, as a voting block called The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), are vocal in international climate change negotiations, as the threat of climate change has become a security issue.
At COP 23, I was fortunate to attend an enriching side event called “Achieving a Just Transition: Climate Change Mitigation Success Stories from Around the Globe.” This side event featured many compelling representatives of small island nations, calling themselves Pacific Climate Warriors, to highlight the urgency of their struggle.
“As Pacific Climate Warriors, we want to hold the world accountable. We demand that the world move away from fossil fuels and invest in 100% renewables, not just for us, but for generations to come.”—Billy Cava, New Caledonia
Hear from Billy & other activists in the podcast at the bottom of the page.
This call to action exemplifies the plight of the 52 small island developing nations or Sids. Sids are vulnerable to a laundry list of climate effects, from the more obvious sea level rise and temperature increases to coral bleaching, ocean acidification, the frequency of tropical cyclones, and shoreline erosion.
3,000 years ago,
people began to inhabit the Pacific islands. Over time, the island lifestyle has adapted as the landscape shifted around them. The culture of Pacific islanders revolves around the ocean, with their access to resources inextricably tied to the ocean’s bounty.
The saliency of the threat of climate change is shown in the shift in how the culture relates to the ocean. Once a friend and a reliable provider, the ocean has become a “false friend,” that can turn into an attacker at any moment, destroying the livelihood of its dependents.
When it comes to climate action, the narrative from islanders skews significantly toward adaptation rather than mitigation (as exemplified by the podcast below).
With mitigation, they expect most of the responsibility to fall on developed nations, who are historically responsible for a majority of emissions. In fact, the combined contribution of the islands to GHG emissions accounts for less than 1% of global emissions. As a result, much of the fault for their current problems falls on the shoulders of big emitters, like the US.
A recent UN report found that the response of island nations to climate change is largely project-based, ad hoc, and heavily dependent on external resources. Australia and New Zealand have contributed financial support to adaptation efforts. However, the top-down approach to distribution prevents financial flows and relevant information from reaching peripheral communities. Rural islanders remain in the dark, with limited understanding of the government’s position on climate change.
During an interview, a Fijian woman stressed the importance of information-sharing to empower islanders to take action. Though many islanders are aware of present-day environmental changes, their understanding of climate change is negligible…, particularly among the older generations.
A survey of Kiribati and Vanuatu, outer island communities in Fiji, found that most islanders had no understanding of the word “climate change,” though they recognized linked environmental changes.
More promising though, young people are becoming increasingly aware of the long-term impacts of climate change because of resource limitations. 7 out of the top 10 countries that depend on fish and seafood as a primary food source are small island developing states.
Community-based environmental governance is common in the region. Many respected community leaders lack formal education and make decisions based on precedent. Unfortunately, this has led to ineffective climate responses, like building seawalls and clearing vegetation, further exacerbating erosion. It is imperative to enhance climate literacy in the islands in order to build capacity for these vulnerable island communities to take effective climate action.
Hear from two Pacific Climate warriors about their perspective on the importance of climate action in the podcast below: