Preparing for a warmer world
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CTA. 2005. Preparing for a warmer world. Spore 117. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47898
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore117.pdf
Agriculture, fisheries and forestry have traditionally provided the main sources of food and income for ACP islands. But these livelihoods are increasingly threatened by climate change, mostly caused by emissions on the other side of the globe.
People living in ACP small island states could be forgiven for feeling a sense of injustice. There is a cruel irony in the fact that although many of these remote communities produce little pollution, they will suffer some of the earliest and most severe consequences of climate change. Take the Pacific Island countries. They account for just 0.03% of the world s carbon dioxide emissions, with the average islander producing one-quarter of the emissions of the average person worldwide. Figures are similar for other island states in Africa and the Caribbean. According to a report by the UN s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), recent rises in surface air temperatures in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea regions have been greater than global rates of warming. The report forecasts a global average temperature rise of 1.4-5.8°C by the year 2100, and more frequent flooding, especially for islands of the Caribbean and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is projected that sea level will rise by as much as 5 mm per year over the next century. With many ACP islands just 3-4 m above sea level, some will be submerged entirely. Others will lose large tracts of coastline to the sea. The effects of climate change are already being seen in many small island developing states (SIDS), in the form of coastal erosion, changing rainfall patterns, severe droughts and an increase in extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods and cyclones. The International Meeting on SIDS, held in Mauritius in January 2005, heard that 14 recent storms and hurricanes in the Caribbean caused US$20 billion in economic losses and acknowledged that some island states may disappear altogether. The tiny Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu is likely to be the first to be swallowed by the waves. Because of salt water intrusion, many islanders have already abandoned arable farming. A variable outlook One crop model quoted by the IPCC forecasts that in Trinidad and Tobago, sugarcane yields may fall by 20-40% due to the warmer climate. Projections are similar for sugarcane in Mauritius. Biodiversity is seriously threatened by global warming, with impacts already observed including changes in reproduction cycles, growing seasons and the frequency of pest and disease outbreaks. Coral reefs have seen devastating losses as a result of increased water temperatures. Anyone interested in global warming should be watching coral reefs as they are the most sensitive ecological indicator we have, said Gregor Hodgson, executive director of Reef Check, which monitors reefs worldwide. In Saoluafata, a coastal village on Samoa, islanders have been warned to expect more frequent floods, but also more drought, as well as more intense and frequent tropical cyclones. The community has identified several priorities, including a sea wall, a water drainage system, water tanks and a place to store food supplies. But many of these are costly projects, and it remains to be seen who will pay. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) explicitly charges developed countries with assisting the developing country parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in meeting costs of adaptation to those adverse effects. But some critics complain that countries of the North are not doing enough, and that although the Mauritius Strategy drawn up at the end of the 2005 Summit urged all international bodies to pay attention to island needs, it set no specific tasks and no timeframe. Countdown to catastrophe Many islanders need no statistics to tell them that all is not well. Imogen Pua Ingram, president of the Taporoporo Ipukarea Society in Raratonga, says global warming is already making itself felt in terms of different weather patterns, lower yields of black pearls and crop outputs. We increasingly suffer droughts, followed by extremely heavy rainfall over several days, she said. Temperature changes have affected currents, changing the migration corridors of fish. Penina Moce, who lives in Udu on Kabara Island in Fiji, also has first-hand experience of climate change. We have begun to notice that the fish and shellfish we used to be able to gather so easily are getting harder to find, she said. Fish used to bite quickly. Now we can spend more than an hour before we get a single bite. Recent flooding in Guyana, and hurricanes and tropical storms in other parts of the region, have highlighted the Caribbean s vulnerability to climate change. Though islanders can see the effects all too clearly, planners complain they still lack reliable data to assess the threat. The Mainstreaming Adaptation to Climate Change (MACC) project has been launched to help 12 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries prepare for global warming. One goal is to help farming communities identify crops and agricultural practices best suited to the new conditions. On Mauritius, where coastal erosion can already be seen with the naked eye, it has been calculated that with a 1-m sea level rise, some 26 km of beaches would be swept away and thousands of hectares of sugarcane plantations engulfed. Predicted temperature rises would drastically affect fish stocks. The Mauritius Meteorological Services has set up a National Climate Committee, to evaluate local vulnerability to climate change and identify strategies to mitigate its impact, including the building of structures and the use of more vegetation to fend off erosion. Most climate change experts agree that the response needs to be two-pronged mitigating risks from climate variability and optimising food security by adapting to what most now see as inevitable. Said Diane McFadzien of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF): Island countries cannot prevent climate change occurring, but through development policies, they can increase their resilience to its impacts. Early warning will be an important component of preparing SIDs for the effects of climate variability (see Spore 116). At a local level, there is a need for renewable energy projects, help with installing proper drainage and watersheds, seeds for drought-resistant crops, water tanks to catch rainfall, alternative pest management systems and reforestation. Spurred on by reasons of cost and sustainability, several small island states are making significant progress in introducing alternative power technologies. In Vanuatu, some vehicles now run on coconut bio-fuel. On Rarotonga, wave energy is being investigated. The Caribbean Renewable Energy Development Project (CREDP) plans to supply 10% of the region s electricity needs from renewable energy technologies by 2015. In Barbados, 33% of all households now use solar water heaters. A race against time Some experts stress the importance of incorporating indigenous knowledge into adaptation strategies, and community level initiatives appear to offer some of the best hope for preparing for change. Traditional planting calendars may need to be altered. Farmers switching to multi-crop agriculture can spread the risk, and plant drought-and pest-resistant crops which have more resilience. Improved water management and conservation methods can help preserve dwindling supplies. One initiative launched by a Fiji-based NGO, the Organisation for Industrial, Spiritual and Cultural Advancement is training young people to plant mangroves, which provide protection against tides, cyclones, and storm surges. Also on Fiji, the WWF is working with the coastal community of Tikina Wai to establish marine protected areas, in an effort to increase the resilience of its marine resources. As the countdown begins, some ACP islanders may draw a crumb of comfort from the fact that not all the effects of climate change are negative. Farmers in the Cook Islands speak of breadfruit trees bearing fruit out of season. Fruit growers in Fiji say the mango season is lasting longer. And taro is now growing in dry areas of Fiji due to more frequent rainfall, with yields up by an estimated 5 to 15%.