Environment Update
Global Action Needed on Climate Change
A NEW report released on Tuesday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints the starkest picture yet of the extreme challenges facing our planet as a direct result of climate change.

The Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), David Sheppard, has welcomed the release of the report and echoes the call for swift, concentrated and global action to respond to the indisputable risks that are identified. The report preparation was led and coordinated by a total of 309 lead authors and editors from 70 countries who form the second of three working groups tasked with assessing the state of climate change. They were further assisted by an additional 436 contributing authors, and a total of 1,729 expert and government reviewers.

Entitled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, the IPCC Working Group II report outlines how the impact of climate change is already taking place in all continents and oceans around the globe. It also warns that in most cases, people and governments are not adequately prepared for the risks from a changing climate.

While no-one is immune to the impacts of climate change, the report clearly identifies the people and ecosystems that face the greatest and most immediate threat.

"For those of us who live and work in the Pacific island region, it comes as no surprise to learn that it is small island states and our marine and coastal ecosystems that are among the most vulnerable to the threats of global temperature increases and rising sea levels," says Mr Sheppard. "This is despite the fact that the region only contributes 0.3% of global greenhouse emissions."

"One of the most crucial findings that we must take from this report is the critical importance of practical climate change adaptation and mitigation programmes, along with other activities that foster island resilience and reduce vulnerabilities to climate change."

On a more upbeat note, the report singles out community based adaptation projects in small island states as delivering significant benefits, especially when run in conjunction with other development activities.

This underlines the importance of regional activities such as the Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change (PACC) programme, a joint initiative of SPREP and UNDP.

PACC is the largest climate change adaptation initiative in the region that builds the adaptive capacity of Pacific islands and reduces vulnerability to sea level rise and droughts. PACC supports more effective water management and conservation, drought resistant crops and methods of watering gardens and supporting protection of coastal vegetation, including mangroves.

The IPCC report emphasises that sea-level rise poses one of the most widely recognised climate change threats to low-lying coastal areas on islands and atolls. The report advises that global mean sea-level rise rates are accelerating and that sea surface temperature will rise. The risks of severe sea-flood, erosion of low-lying coastal areas and atoll islands, degradation of fresh ground water resources and increased coral bleaching and reef degradation are highlighted. "These are very sobering findings for the small islands - we need to step up appropriate adaptation and risk reduction efforts in every sector, both at national and community levels, while at the same time noting the need for deep cuts in green house gas emissions globally," says Mr Sheppard.

While there is continuing strong support for the incorporation of indigenous knowledge into adaptation planning, current practices alone may not be adequate to cope with future climate extremes.

Small islands need to consider several approaches to adaptation such as using a whole of island approach, which combines legislative policy with capacity building and protection and better management of natural ecosystems. The communities of Choiseul, Solomon Islands and Abaiang, Kiribati are trialing this approach with their governments and partners.

"The protection and management of natural marine and terrestrial ecosystems is vitally important and should be viewed as a "front line response" to the changing climate," says Mr Sheppard.

In May 2014, SPREP will partner with the University of the South Pacific, the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and the National University of Samoa, to hold a series of public events in Fiji and Samoa to discuss the findings of the IPCC report.