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Pacific Islands

Climate Change Adaptation in the Pacific Islands

In January 2004, Tropical Cyclone Heta slammed into the Pacific Island nation of Niue, causing mass destruction and nearly costing the state its sovereignty. With prospect of more intense tropical cyclones resulting from Global Climate Change, Pacific Island Nations face increased risks to populations, economic well being, and if recent history is a harbinger viable governance in some cases.

While Niue’s story may not be as familiar in climate change discourse, Tuvalu’s struggle to remain a viable state in the wake of rising sea levels has become a well known symbol. Across Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia, Tuvalu’s struggle against climate change-induced sea level rise could be a key indicator of new 21st Century threats. Should melting patterns in the polar regions take an abrupt route in Antarctica or Greenland, the Pacific Islands stand to be marginalized on the world stage as the rest of the world surges to manage its own encroaching seas.

Besides the increased threat of potential ‘state killing’ tropical cyclones and sea level rise, the Pacific Islands face the potential of altered patterns of precipitation, increasing frequency of drought, and potential shifts in ocean currents and local climate regimes that could have adverse impacts on ecosystems and economies.

Given the extraordinary vulnerability of the Pacific Islands adaptation to climate change’s many potential threats will require the engagement of local, national, and international actors. Potential adaptation strategies could include:

a) Sound refugee resettlement strategies for islands that may be rendered uninhabitable. With an emphasis on process, planning, and engagement of the displaced themselves, these strategies should maximize cultural preservation and finding sound matches between the skill sets of refugees and the countries of resettlement.

b) Natural Hazard Mitigation strategies against the threat of tropical cyclones and coastal flooding, including zoning and land-use policies that reduce the exposure of islanders to the immediate coastal environment. In addition, mitigation strategies can include coastal construction practices including elevation of first floors against flood hazard, and roofs, walls, and windows against wind hazard.

c) Coping mechanisms to deal with the prospect of prolonged drought, such as high-technology approaches to desalinization and irrigation.

d) Increased food security through the conversion of cash crop agricultural economies to more resilient, traditionally-based farming systems that can serve as local and regional ‘breadbaskets.”

From Tahiti to the Hawaiian Islands to Rapa Nui to Aeoteroa New Zealand, rediscovering the maritime culture that spanned the Pacific for centuries underpin notions of sovereignty, survival, and Pan-Pacific identity. Pan-Pacific pride will be an extremely important galvanizing force for adapting to the potential perils of Global Climate Change. Such concerns must be prominent on the agenda of the international community as well.

Niue and Tuvalu should serve as a strong warning that fewer Pacific Islands may be sitting at the international table of nations if a coordinated climate change adaptation strategy is not pursued.

~Nicholas M. Burk

Nburk 03:22, 3 December 2008 (CET)

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