Co-authored by Prof Mark Howden (IPCC & ANU) and ‘Ofa Ma’asi-Kaisamy (PCCC hosted at SPREP)
This week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report, bringing together seven years of research from hundreds of experts. With each line approved by 195 governments, there is no room for doubt in the findings that have been reported.
One of the main messages of the Synthesis Report is that climate change is progressively becoming more severe and intense and likely will continue to do so. And yet, there is also a message of hope – globally we have many of the means to address it right now. We need to take action urgently and at scale.
So, what do we know?
We know that all warming since 1850 is undeniably and wholly caused by human activities. Globally, we have already experienced warming of 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. Unsustainable energy use, land use, lifestyles, patterns of consumption and production, and the burning of fossil fuels are particularly responsible. Even with this knowledge, emissions have continued to rise across all major sectors over the last decade. But contributions to this warming are by no means equal. Pacific Island Countries and Territories have much lower emissions per person than the global average, while being amongst the most vulnerable.
We know that Pacific Island nations are already experiencing some of the worst impacts of climate change. Across our region, we have faced challenges of water and food security, impacts to our peoples’ health and wellbeing including from climate-induced displacement, and damages to homes and infrastructure from flooding, cyclones, storm damages, volcanic eruptions and extreme events. Our land and oceans have also changed affecting our ecosystem structure with species distribution shifting and changes in seasonal timings as well as sea level rise. The report shows that large scale and rapid changes have been observed in the ocean, frozen areas, atmosphere and ecosystems across every region of the world. Every region is expected to face increasing risks from climate hazards in the near term. However, it is often the most vulnerable communities who have historically contributed the least to the problem who are, and will continue to be, affected the most.
This unequal experience of cause and impact demands a consideration of climate justice. Pacific Island nations call on the countries most responsible to take the needed action to curb global warming. It has been said many times, and will be said again, that keeping warming below 1.5’C is not a preference for the Pacific, it is a necessity. The report predicts that we will likely exceed warming of 1.5’C in the early 2030s if we do not take rapid and genuine action now. “My Pacific community is at the front line of the impacts from climate change, we live in places prone to floods with a higher incidence of vector borne and climate related diseases. My Pacific people are living at the crossroads, there is an urgent need for scaled-up ambition and implementation to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees which is crucial for our pacific island countries and territories survival” ‘Ofa Kaisamy, Manager Pacific Climate Change Centre
The IPCC has reported a ‘carbon budget’ - the amount of carbon we can emit before we are likely to exceed 1.5’C. The emissions generated from existing and planned fossil fuel projects alone will exceed this budget. Underpinning our global commitment to limiting warming to 1.5’C was an understanding that this was the threshold to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The impacts beyond this level are far too long to list here, but of key importance to our region is that beyond this warming we would lose a further 70-90% of coral reefs, globally.
What can we do?
The second question that comes to mind is it too late? Absolutely not. While it is true some climate impacts would continue even if we stopped any further warming from today, the IPCC makes clear that we can choose what our future looks like. We know that as a global community we have sufficient knowledge, tools, and global capital available right now to address the challenges of climate change. Governments, as well as civil society and the private sector, will play a crucial role. We know that halting global warming requires us reaching global net zero carbon dioxide emissions, and this requires a substantial reduction in overall fossil fuel use. We need to ensure that our finance is directed appropriately, and to change the trend showing public and private finance flows for fossil fuels are still greater than those for climate adaptation and mitigation.
This IPCC report strengthens the case for action. For example, even without adding in the value of other co-benefits of reducing GHG emissions (such as reductions in air pollution) or the avoided damages from climate change (such as reducing damage from extreme events), the global economic benefit of limiting warming to 2°C is assessed to exceed the costs of emission-reductions. Rapid action on climate change is simply the economically sensible thing to do.
The IPCC Report shows the importance of policies that are based on principles of equity and climate justice. These can help us achieve emission-reduction and climate adaptation while also providing many benefits for human wellbeing, ecosystems and overall planetary health. Acknowledging, listening to, and acting on traditional and local knowledge can also help us better respond to the challenges of and further effective responses to climate change.
We know that climate change is not just an issue for Pacific Islands. At the last round of UN Climate negotiations, COP27, the meeting rooms echoed with the words ‘What happened in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan’, referring to the devastating floods that caused immeasurable human suffering and loss. Similarly, we heard countless stories from Pacific Island Nations who are on the frontline of climate change now, including Tuvalu who is the first nation to prepare for becoming a digital state in anticipation of future climate impacts. While Pacific Island nations are facing devastating climate impacts now, our reality will become a global one if we do not act. There is a rapidly closing window to avoid the worst of climate change, but it is still open. Importantly we also have the means, knowledge and motivation to act in ways that also create many benefits for sustainable development.
We know that the choices and actions we take now will have impacts for decades to thousands of years.
ABOUT THE PCCC
The Pacific Climate Change Centre (PCCC) is the regional Centre of excellence for climate change information, research, and innovation, hosted at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in Apia, Samoa. As a Centre of excellence, the PCCC is mandated to provide practical information, support, and training to address the adaptation and mitigation priorities of Pacific Island communities.
The PCCC is underpinned by strong partnerships with Pacific Governments, applied research institutions, donors, civil society, and the private sector. The PCCC is a partnership between the Governments of Japan and Samoa. It is funded under grant aid through JICA for Samoa as the host country of SPREP. Additionally, the Centre receives generous funding and support from the Governments of New Zealand, Ireland and Australia.
Photo by C.Iacovino