A Lesson in Climate Action from Pacific Island Nations
by Abigail Benjamin, Communications Fellow (image: 350.org)
Living in the United States allows many people to feel as if we have the privilege of inaction – we can pretend that the coastal threats of climate change are not immediate and quickly worsening, because they are not constantly obvious to us. This is one reason CABA strives to educate businesses and individuals on the impacts of sea level rise on the east coast, as well as provide them with resiliency strategies. We are up against the selective delusion which prevents us from taking the steps necessary to ensure the safety of our coastal homes and businesses.
However, halfway around the world in the small island nation of Kiribati, families and businesses do not have the luxury of inaction. Despite their nominal fossil fuel usage and greenhouse gas emissions, I-Kiribati (residents of Kiribati) are already facing effects of the climate crisis that are too harsh to ignore.
The ocean is acidifying and rising, temperatures are increasing, and rainfall is increasing. Most of Kiribati lies no more than six feet above sea level. As the climate changes, Kiribati will experience groundwater shortages, saltwater intrusion, increased prevalence and spread of tropical diseases like dengue fever, and food shortages. As causeways are washed away, the economy will be crippled. Already, many struggle to find potable groundwater and grow profitable crops.
Kiribati is not the only island nation threatened by climate change. Other nations – including but not limited to Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, and the Marshall Islands – are among the first to bear the heaviest burdens of the changing climate.
The looming need to relocate not only threatens Pacific Islanders’ lives and livelihoods, but their very identity, which is tied to ancestral land. Migration also means that splintering communities may lose their mostly orally-preserved traditions.
Yet, Pacific islanders aren’t the only communities who will be forced to relocate; by 2050, climate migrants from areas around the world will total between 200 million and 1 billion. This mass migration will put pressure on infrastructure and services in receiving areas, undermine economic growth, and compromise the wellbeing of migrants.
This is why many I-Kiribati and others across the Pacific are fighting for climate solutions, working to preserve their respective cultures and traditions while spreading a message of resilience and calling on others around the world to do their part.
Many organizations like Micronesia Conservation Trust, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, the Nature Conservancy, and 350 Pacific conduct community outreach, conservation education, policy advocacy, and climate awareness campaigns. These organizations and many others are working to unite communities across the Pacific and around the world for mass action towards community climate resiliency and effective climate policy.
Such policy is already taking shape. This week, New Zealand’s Labour Party announced its intent to support Pacific climate refugees. A new World Bank report justifies this; if receiving countries like Australia and New Zealand reform existing barriers to labor mobility and allow for higher immigration, it could create 80,000 more permanent jobs in the Pacific and generate an additional $10 billion in income. By enacting a long-term migration strategy, Pacific nations can prepare for the impacts of climate change and receiving countries can prevent the resource strain from otherwise sudden mass migrations.
As some nations prepare for the direct effects of climate change and others prepare for the indirect effects, all will need to enact cooperative resilience-focused measures which lessen the burden of climate change on people, communities, and businesses around the world.
If you have a coastal business, you can start learning about and implementing resiliency measures today. Check out our Businesses Acting on Rising Seas report.
Abby is an Environmental Studies student at the College of the Holy Cross, where she co-facilitates the divestment movement HC Fossil Free and manages student workers through the Dining Services Employment Office. As a junior, she had the opportunity to study in Tropical North Queensland, Australia, where she ID’d and measured many trees and met too many land leeches. Previously, Abby worked in Raleigh as an intern with Environment North Carolina.