Futurelearning

Pacific must look inwards for climate answers

In the first of a series of pieces to come out of the Pacific Climate Change Conference, Victoria University's Hon Luamanuvao Winnie Laban argues that Pacific nations on the frontline of climate change can't rely on the big nations to look our for them 

Last week, Cyclone Gita tore through Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and other parts of the Pacific. There were landslides, flooding and blocked roads. Houses were destroyed, people were injured and trees were ripped out of the ground.

This week, Gita has been wreaking havoc in New Zealand, and it was a similar story at the beginning of the month when Cyclone Fehi brought torrential rain causing slips and flooding across the country. That same day, in the peak of summer, it snowed near Queenstown.

Sadly, we are in an age where these events are becoming more and more likely. And if this is what’s happening now, it’s frightening to think what the future will look like as climate change continues to radically change our environment.

People often say the Pacific — and that includes New Zealand — is at the frontline of climate change. It’s already affecting Pacific peoples’ daily lives and in some places it’s threatening their existence. That’s no exaggeration.

Some low-lying islands, like Kiribati and Tokelau, are watching their coastlines disappear to rising sea levels and wondering where the people will go.

When I first visited Tuvalu, I saw people increasing the height of sea walls because salt water was ruining their pulaka crops and drinking water. The scary part? That was 25 years ago.

Climate change has been creeping up on us for decades, and it is now racing ahead so fast some people don’t know if we can stop it. I believe, if we work together, we can. To think otherwise is to give up.

The Paris Agreement on climate change is a good start for global effort. But it doesn’t give SIDS (small island developing nations) the special provisions they need for being the most vulnerable.

Climate change has been creeping up on us for decades, and it is now racing ahead so fast some people don’t know if we can stop it.

What we need is people of the Pacific to have a talanoa, a conversation, and find our own solutions.

Over the next three days, Victoria University of Wellington and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme are hosting the second Pacific Climate Change Conference at Te Papa.

We have more than 160 people presenting from science, business, law, indigenous issues, activism, the media, the arts and faith groups. And 350-plus are attending.

It’s important to bring together experts from all areas.

Scientists are already talking to other scientists, activists are already working with other activists. This conference puts them all in the same room so they can learn how their areas intersect with others and share the latest information and ideas.

From here, they’ll be better informed, and can go back to their NGO or research centre, their university or activist group, their government department or small business, and develop new ways of taking action on climate change.

There’s been enough talk. What we’re trying to achieve here is action.

One thing I’ve learnt in my role at Victoria is the importance of listening to young people. These next generations are our future leaders, thinkers, decision-makers, creators and influencers and can offer unique perspectives and passion.

A key aspect of this conference is its Pacific focus. We need to talk about these issues at a regional level. The international discussions are at a high level that don’t address what is happening here in the Pacific. And we can’t rely on the bigger nations (and bigger emitters) to look out for us.

There are people out there who will think, what can we do in the Pacific when we’re so small? I say the Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. The ocean is our home, food source, transport routes and a source of navigation. The Pacific region is not small and we are not powerless.

Representatives from 11 Pacific island nations will be attending the conference. They will be able to share their on-the-ground experience of living and coping with the impacts of climate change.

At the inaugural Pacific Climate Change Conference in 2016, we asked Pacific Island representatives to find out how their country’s emissions targets are tracking against the Paris Agreement. We’ve asked those same countries to report back at this week’s conference.

I’m hopeful there will be real progress. But where there’s not, we’ll have the region’s experts who’ll be able to explore how things can improve.

One thing I’ve learnt in my role at Victoria is the importance of listening to young people. These next generations are our future leaders, thinkers, decision-makers, creators and influencers and can offer unique perspectives and passion.

The conference includes young activists from 350.org’s Pacific Climate Warriors, PhD student Tauisi Taupo discussing research on distant cyclones and graduate lawyer Sarah Thompson who took the New Zealand government to court over its climate change targets.

We may all be from different disciplines and from different parts of the Pacific. But this conference is about coming together. Because to find a way forward, we’ll all need to paddle the same canoe.

Future Learning will be featuring reports from each day of the second Pacific Climate Change Conference.

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