By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – Pacific Island government officials were in New York for the United Nations session and environmental conferences last month, looking for unity and solutions to climate change and the sea level rise which threatens their existence.
After the UN sessions Micronesian President David W. Panuelo told NPR, “We felt we were heard by the global community,” although he said he wished the U.S., which he called his nation’s closest ally, would return to the Paris agreement.
Last month, two Pacific Island nations, Solomon Islands and Kiribati, switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to mainland China. Among other reasons, President Taneti Mamau of Kiribati pointed out that China has stuck with the Paris agreement. “They are serious about it,” he said.
In the Solomon Islands, coastal erosion has been devastating according to the country’s environment minister, Melchior Mataki. His government is looking at relocation he says, “Relocation is often perceived as a last option, yet for some parts of our country, it is the only reasonable and sustainable option.”
“I see the sea getting higher as the coastal areas are eaten away,” said Claire Anterea, 41, a climate activist in Kiribati. It’s a country of just over 110,000 people living on atolls that dot the central Pacific. “My family’s home floods throughout the year,” Anterea told NPR in an email.
Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine told NPR, “We are currently working on our national adaptation plan. And when we get that plan finished, we need resources to implement it. It would include possibly raising some islands so that we can ensure our culture and our people live into the future, that we’ll remain a viable country.”
In June President Heine said in an interview, “In order for the Marshall Islands, as a country and as a culture and as a people[…] to remain in the future, we need to make sure we have higher grounds,” she said. Heine says that her country needs to ‘raise its islands’ to avoid ‘getting drowned’ by the ocean.
A new report by an expert U.N. climate panel said the oceans are warming and sea ice and glaciers are melting much faster than previously thought. According to the report, tipping points are being reached and some of the more severe consequences of climate change can no longer be avoided.
They note that events that occurred once per century in the past will occur every year by mid-century in many regions, increasing risks for many low-lying coastal cities and small island nations, like the majority of the Pacific Islands.
“It’s adding to their urgency,” said Victoria Keener, a climate change research fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu. The Pacific Islands “really pulled together to say, ‘We’re all in this together.’ “