UN to Help Pacific Island States Fight Climate Change

NEW YORK, New York, August 19, 2008 (ENS) – The United Nations and Samoa plan to establish an Inter-Agency Climate Change Centre to help coordinate support to Pacific Island countries to combat the impact of global warming in their region.

Given the direct impact of climate change on vulnerable countries in the region, the new agency will focus its support on the mitigation, adaptation and reduction of the risk of disaster facing the Islands, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said today in a message to the Pacific Islands Forum Summit meeting, held in Alofi, Niue.

“I am very heartened that the Pacific island countries are making their voices heard on the subject of climate change,” Ban said. “Climate change is not science fiction. As your countries know all too well, it is real and present.”

His statement was delivered by Noeleen Heyzer, the executive secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, to the 16 heads of government of the independent and self-governing states in the Pacific.

The main theme of this year’s summit is climate change, as the effect of global warming is a threat to food security and safety of island communities.

Coconut palms on the island of Niue
in the South Pacific (Photo by Ekrem

Many Pacific Island countries are already experiencing sea level rise as a consequence of climate change.

Several UN agencies already collaborate with the Pacific Islands Forum, assisting on issues from farming and fisheries to urbanization.

A UN report issued in July shows that climate change is already affecting the world’s oceans. The report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that Earth’s rising temperature will have serious consequences for the hundreds of millions of people who depend on fishing for their livelihoods, as many people do in the Pacific Island countries.

It documents how changes in sea temperatures alter the body temperature of aquatic species that people eat. Warmer waters adversely impact the metabolism, growth rate, reproduction and susceptibility to diseases and toxins of these fish and shell fish.

Climate change is being seen as an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as the El Niño sea surface warming phenomenon in the South Pacific; and in the general warming of the world’s oceans, with the Atlantic in particular showing signs of warming deep below the surface;

Warmer water species are now increasing toward the South and North Poles, the report states.

There also has been an increase in salinity in near-surface waters in hotter regions. The opposite is occurring in colder areas because of greater precipitation and melting ice.

Sea level rise is affecting the South
Pacific island of Vanuatu. (Photo by
Meredith James)

In addition, the oceans are becoming more acidic with negative consequences for coral reefs and organisms that form calcium shells.

Fishing communities in the world’s high-latitudes, as well as those that rely on coral reef systems such as the Pacific Islands, will be most exposed to the impact of climate change, the FAO predicts.

Fisheries located in deltas, coral atolls and ice-dominated coasts will be vulnerable to flooding and coastal erosion because of rises in sea level.

The UN says about 42 million people work directly in the fishing sector, most of them in developing countries. Adding those who work in fish processing, supply, marketing and distribution, the fishing industry supports several hundred million jobs worldwide.

Aquatic foods have high nutritional quality, contributing 20 percent or more of average per capita animal protein intake for more than 2.8 billion people, again mostly in developing countries.

Fish is also the world’s most widely traded food, the UN says, and is a key source of export earnings for many poorer countries. These issues have particular significance for Pacific small island States.

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