Facing Rising Ocean, Pacific Island Town Must Relocate

In an unprecedented move that illustrates the dramatic impacts of planetary global warming, one community in the South Pacific has decided it has no choice but to pick itself up entirely and flee for higher ground.

All too aware of their vulnerability to the effects of climate change — such as rising sea levels and extreme weather events — communities in the Pacific Islands have long acknowledged that their very existence isthreatened by global warming.

But now, authorities in a town on Taro Island, a coral atoll off Choiseul in the Solomon Islands that sits less than seven feet above sea level, have decided to relocate to the mainland in response to increasing coastal hazards including tsunamis, storm surges, and erosion. The exodus from Choiseul Bay Township, the provincial capital that's currently home to about 500 people, will take place over many years. It is the first such official migration — of people, services, and facilities — in the Pacific Islands.

According to Reuters, “the groups behind the Choiseul adaptation plan said it is being hailed by the Solomon Islands national government as a model for other provinces across the nation and more broadly across the Pacific.”

The plan comes out of Choiseul Bay Township's consultation with a team of engineers, scientists and planners, funded by the Australian government, on how best to adapt to the impact of climate change. Extensive community input was solicited, Choiseul Province premier Jackson Kiloe said in a statement Friday.

“Relocation is the only option available that will keep the community safe and will allow for future growth and prosperity of the capital and the province,” said Philip Haines, project manager at BMT, an engineering firm that worked on the plan.

Land to build a new, larger settlement that could accommodate up to 5,000 inhabitants has already been acquired, Haines told Reuters. The town will essentially have to be built up from scratch, with a hospital and school expected to be constructed within five years. In the meantime, the plan prescribes detailed actions to increase the community’s resilience to climate change, including the preparation of a tsunami response plan, and the handover of a hand-wound siren to alert the local communities of a tsunami warning.

The Solomon Islands government would be looking for climate change funding from international donors to finance the relocation, Reuters reports.

Some of that funding could come from the U.S., which has millions invested in Asia-Pacific climate change adaptation, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out when he visited the Solomon Islands just last week.

In remarks delivered in Honolulu last week, Kerry said:

I just came from the Solomon Islands yesterday, a thousand islands, some of which could be wiped out if we don’t make the right choices. The Pacific Islands across the entire Pacific are vulnerable to climate change. And just yesterday, I saw with my own eyes what sea level rise would do to parts of it: It would be devastating — entire habitats destroyed, entire populations displaced from their homes, in some cases entire cultures wiped out. They just had flash flooding in Guadalcanal — unprecedented amounts of rainfall. And that’s what’s happened with climate change — unprecedented storms, unprecedented typhoons, unprecedented hurricanes, unprecedented droughts, unprecedented fires, major damage, billions and billions of dollars of damage being done that we’re paying for instead of investing those billions of dollars in avoiding this in the first place. More

 

2028: The End of the World As We Know It?

“There is nothing radical in what we’re discussing,” journalist and climate change activist Bill McKibben said before a crowd of nearly 1,000 at the University of California Los Angeles last night. “The radicals work for the oil companies.”

Bill McKibben

Taken on its own, a statement like that would likely sound hyperbolic to most Americans—fodder for a sound bite on Fox News. Anyone who saw McKibben’s lecture in full, however, would know he was not exaggerating.

McKibben was in Los Angeles as part of his nationwide “Do the Math” tour. Based on a recent article of his in Rolling Stone, (“The one with Justin Bieber on the cover,” McKibben joked) the event is essentially a lecture circuit based on a single premise: climate change is simple math—and the numbers do not look good. If immediate action isn’t taken by global leaders: “It’s game-over for the planet.”

The math, McKibben explained, works like this. Global leaders recently came to an international agreement based on the scientific understanding that a global temperature raise of 2°C would have “catastrophic” consequences for the future of humanity. In order to raise global temperatures to this catastrophic threshold, the world would have to release 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Here’s the problem: Fossil fuel companies currently have 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide in their fuel reserves—and their business model depends on that fuel being sold and burned. At current rates of consumption, the world will have blown through its 565-gigaton threshold in 16 years.

To prevent the end of the world as we know it, it will require no less than the death of the most profitable industry in the history of humankind.

“As of tonight,” McKibben said, “we’re going after the fossil fuel industry.”

Obviously no easy task. The oil industry commands annual profits of $137 billion and the political power to match. As McKibben noted, “Oil companies follow the laws because they get to write them.”

However, there are some numbers on McKibben’s side. Recent polling data shows 74 percent of Americans now believe in climate change, and 68 percent view it as dangerous. The problem environmental activists are facing is in converting those favorable polling numbers into grassroots action.

Enter “Do the Math.”

Using McKibben’s popularity as an author, organizers are turning what would otherwise be a lecture circuit into a political machine. Before rolling into town, Do the Math smartly organizes with local environmental groups. Prior to McKibben’s lecture, these groups are allowed to take the stage and talk about local initiatives that need fighting. Contact information is gathered to keep the audience updated on those efforts. Instead of simply listening to McKibben, as they perhaps intended, the audience has suddenly become part of their local environmental movement.

It’s a smart strategy, and an essential one—because the problem of climate change is almost exclusively a political in nature. Between renewable energy and more efficient engineering, the technology already exists to stave off catastrophic global warming. Though its application is lagging in the United States, it is being employed on a mass scale in other countries. In socially-stratified China, with its billion-plus population and tremendous wealth inequalities, 25 percent of the country still manages to use solar arrays to heat its water. Germany—Europe’s economic powerhouse—in less than a decade, has managed to get upwards of half of its energy from sustainable sources.

The same can happen here in America—provided we have the will to make it happen. McKibben says the key to realizing that goal is to battle the lifeblood of the fossil fuel industry—its bottom line.

To start, he’s calling for an immediate global divestment from fossil fuel companies. “We’re asking that people who believe in the problem of climate change to stop profiting from it. Just like with divestment movement in South Africa over apartheid, we need to eliminate the oil companies veneer of respectability.”

In conjunction with the divestment regimen, continued protests against unsustainable energy projects will also be crucial. McKibben will be in Washington, D.C. on November 18 to lead a mass rally against climate change and the Keystone Pipeline. “We can no longer just assume that President Obama is going to do everything he promised during his campaign. We need to push him.”

“I don’t know if we’re going to win. But I do know we’re going to fight.” More

 

For the Caribbean, a United Front Is Key to Weathering Climate Change

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten, Jul 2 2014 (IPS) – As the costs of climate change continue to mount, officials with the Commonwealth grouping say it is vital that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) stick together on issues such as per capita income classification.

Seawall in Dominica

Deputy Commonwealth Secretary General (Economic and Social Development) Deodat Maharaj told IPS the classification affects the ability of countries like Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and others to access financing from the international financial institutions.

“To my mind, the international system has to take special consideration of countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and others,” he said.

“The example I like to use is the example of Grenada. You would recall Hurricane Ivan about 10 years ago. It damaged about 70 percent of the housing stock in Grenada. It cost a billion U.S. dollars in damages, equivalent to two years GDP.

“So the countries in the Caribbean can move from high income or middle income to almost zero income with an economic shock or natural disaster,” Maharaj added.

Maharaj, whose appointment took effect earlier this year, said the Commonwealth is preparing “an analytical framework based on research, a case, so that countries such as Grenada when there is a natural disaster their international debt obligation for a particular period of time will be suspended so that they don’t have to continue to pay their debt when it is that they have suffered a natural disaster.”

On the issue of collaboration, one of only three female prime ministers in the Caribbean has reaffirmed her country’s commitment to dealing with climate change and all the issues associated with the global phenomena.

“I would like to reaffirm my strong belief in collaboration with other nations,” Sarah Wescot-Williams, the prime minister of St. Maarten, told IPS.

“Economic issues have forced us to look at ways and means of getting together and we are working collaboratively with other Caribbean nations to mitigate the effects of climate change as well as social issues of unemployment, crime and health.”

Prime Minister of St. Maarten Sarah Wescot-Williams (left)

St. Maarten recently developed and approved its National Energy Policy “and as such we have very specific goals and objectives to reach by 2020 in terms of reduction and promoting alternative, new green ideas, new green products,” Wescot-Williams explained.

She reiterated a point made while addressing regional leaders recently. “I told them we should not only look out for the bigger impacts of climate change or look at those developments as something that is far from us, far from our homes, but look at small things like beach erosion, something that St. Maarten is seeing.

“A report has been issued not very long ago indicating that unless specific measures are taken, a great part of what is now land will no longer be as far as the smaller islands, including St. Maarten, are concerned.”

How they are ranked by financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank is a major issue for Caribbean countries.

Camillo Gonsalves, a former ambassador to the United Nations, says it affects these countries’ ability to secure the required funding to effectively deal with climate change.

He noted that most Caribbean countries are ranked as middle-income countries, and using that metric alone makes his country, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with its one-billion-dollar Gross Domestic Product (GDP), “richer than China”.

“If that is the metric by which we determine economic health and access to concessionary financing, and our ability to borrow ourselves out of a crisis or to spend ourselves out of a crisis, it is clearly a flawed measure,” he said.

He noted that within three hours last Christmas Eve, a trough system left damage and loss in St. Vincent equal to 17 percent of GDP, while the country also suffered natural disasters in 2010, and 2011 – the loss and damage from each of which was in double digits.

This, however, is the measure by which the World Bank, the IMF determine the economic strength of Caribbean countries, Gonsalves said, adding that these international institutions do not consider the region’s vulnerabilities.

“The Caribbean small island developing states are among the most heavily indebted states in the world,” Gonsalves said, noting that the debt-to-GDP ratio in the region ranges from 20 percent in Haiti – which received significant debt forgiveness after the 2010 earthquake – to 139 percent in Jamaica, with St. Kitts and Nevis and Grenada at 105 and 115 per cent, respectively, even as the European Union has set itself a debt-to-GDP ratio of 65 per cent.

“If your debt-to-GDP ratio is 139 percent and you are struck by a natural disaster… how do you borrow yourself out of that crisis? Where do you find money immediately to build your roads, your houses, your bridges, your hospitals that have been damaged? How can you set money aside in preparation for the next climate event if you have a debt to GDP ratio of over 100 per cent or approaching 100 per cent, and your debt servicing charges are that high?” Gonsalves said.

Agreeing with Wescot-Williams and Maharaj that there is strength in unity, Gonsalves, who serves as foreign affairs minister for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said the upcoming Third United Nations Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Samoa is an ideal opportunity for regional countries to do more than just talk about collaboration.

“The issue of how we are ranked and classified has to be rectified – not addressed, not flagged, not considered. It has to be rectified in Samoa. That has to be one of our prime objectives going into this conference,” he said.

The Samoa conference will be held from Sep. 1-4 under the theme “The Sustainable Development of Small Island States Through Genuine and Durable Partnerships”.

It will seek to assess progress and remaining gaps; renew political commitment by focusing on practical and pragmatic actions for further implementation; identify new and emerging challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of SIDS and means of addressing them; and identify priorities for the sustainable development of SIDS to be considered in the elaboration of the post-2015 U.N. development agenda.

Maharaj said “one big challenge” for his organisation is the advancement of the interest of small states.

“When I think about the Caribbean and I think about development…we need to think about development not only in terms of five years, 10 years or 15 years,” he said.

“I would like to think about and imagine what will the Caribbean be in the year 2050 at the time when our grand- and great-grandchildren will be around and many of us won’t be here,” Maharaj added. More

 

Time to ask why

Young people have the most to gain from solving the climate crisis — and the sooner the better.

They didn't cause the issue, but they'll have to live with it for decades. And for far too long, they and their interests have been ignored by leaders who refuse to protect the planet.

On September 23, this is going to change when exceptional young people get a chance to put their questions to the world's decision-makers — to speak for their generation at the U.N. Climate Summit in New York City.

Today, we begin searching for the people who will ask their leaders the tough questions about global warming. We're collecting videos of young people ages 13-21 posing tough Why? or Why not? questions about the climate crisis. We'll choose the best to attend the Summit and demand serious answers from the world's leaders.

If you're between the ages of 13 and 21, submit a video. If not, encourage someone you know to submit a video of their own.


Why do we continue burning fossil fuels that cause climate change? Why not switch to clean, renewable energy?

The answers are out there, but we won't get them unless we stand together and demand them — and refuse to be ignored.

Thanks for your continued support,

Al Gore
Founder and Chairman

SUBMIT A VIDEO

 

The Climate War Room

Climate War Room – Sunday 3rd. August 2014

I have today changed the name of the Cayman Institute's climate change blog to the Climate War Room.

Having collaborated with Sir Richard Branson's Carbon War Room on their Ten Island Challenge, which is a major initiative to mitigate climate change through cutting down the global carbon output, I have realized that a similar initiative is needed to to raise awareness of the necessity for a global war on climate change rather than just carbon output.

Jim Hansen

For more input on the reality of the situation a good place to start would be Makiko Sato & James Hansen's website where they ask 'What Path is the Real World Following'? Jim Hansen was the former director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies who resigned because the United States Government would not let him speak out on climate change. Assessing ‘‘Dangerous Climate Change'' makes worrying reading.

The world needs to take climate change, or as James Lovelock prefers to call it 'global heating' very seriously. Dr. Lovelock is the founder of the Gaia theory and on of the great thinkers of this century, his Cirriculum Vitae is very interesting and worth reading. Mary Midgley wrote on James Lovelock, published in the New Statesman on 14 July 2003.“Lovelock is an independent scientist. Though fanatically accurate over details, he never isolates those details from a wider, more demanding vision of their background. He thinks big. Preferring, as Darwin did, to work outside the tramlines of an institution, he has supported himself since 1963 through inventions and consultancies.”

 

We need to take the issue very seriously as a rapidly warming climate will change life as we know it. As Jim Hansen has tried to make us aware our children and grandchildren will effectively living on a different and not very nice planet.

James Lovelock

I implore you to research and read up on this subject. Speak out to your friends and neighbors and contact your political representatives and make your views known to them.

Nicholas Robson – Grand Cayman – Cayman Islands

 

Climate Criminality’: Australia OKs Biggest Coal Mine

In a decision criticized as “climate criminality,” Australia's federal government announced Monday that it has given the OK to the country's biggest coal mine.

The announcement comes less than three months after the state of Queensland gave its approval to the project.

“With this decision,” wrote Ben Pearson, head of programs for Greenpeace Australia Pacific, “the political system failed to protect the Great Barrier Reef, the global climate and our national interest.”

“Off the back of repealing effective action on climate change,” stated Australian Greens environment spokesperson Senator Larissa Waters, referring to the scrapping of the carbon tax, “the Abbott Government has ticked off on a proposal for Australia’s biggest coal mine to cook the planet and turn our Reef into a super highway for coal ships.”

Adani Mining expects its Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project in Queensland's Galilee Basin to produce up to 60 million tonnes of coal a year, most of which will be sent to India. A rail line will be created from the mine to a new coal port terminal, an expansion which means up to 3 million meters of dredging waste will be dumped in the area of the World Heritage-listed Reef.

UNESCO “noted with concern” (pdf) in April the prospect of additional dredging that would negatively impact the Reef and warned that the site could be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The approval for the Carmichael project came from Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt with “36 strict conditions”—conditions that did nothing to allay the environmental fears raised by critics.

Felicity Wishart, Great Barrier Reef Campaign Manager for the Australian Marine Conservation Society, stated that the conditions would be “laughable, if they weren’t so serious.”

Wishart also accused the Queensland and federal government of “watering down environmental protections and fast-tracking approvals for new ports and LNG plants on the Great Barrier Reef.”

“The Federal government has fast-tracked industrialization along the Reef because it is too close to the mining industry,” she stated.

Pearson also admonished the close ties, saying in a statement, “The Federal Environment Minister has laid out the red carpet for a coal company with a shocking track record to dig up the outback, dump on the Great Barrier Reef and fuel climate change.”

Amongst Greenpeace's list of why the project shouldn't go ahead is that

[t]he mine would steal precious water. The mine requires 12 gigaliters (12 billion liters) of water each year from local rivers and underground aquifers. That’s enough drinking water for every Queenslander for three years. Even ten kilometers away, water tables are expected to drop by over one meter.

In addition to the dangers of dredging up the sea-bed, the list adds:

The burning of coal from Carmichael mine would produce four times the fossil fuel emissions of New Zealand. It is a catastrophe for the climate.

“History will look back on the Abbott Government’s decision today as an act of climate criminality,” Waters stated. More

 

Greenpeace Australia Pacific created this infographic to highlight what the group sees as risks the Carmichael mine poses: