Urgent actions are needed to protect the Pacific region from the worst impacts of Climate Change

The recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report has set the alarm bells ringing in the Pacific region. 

Released once every seven years, the report focuses on the physical science of climate change covering temperature rise, rainfall, marine heatwaves, tropical cyclones, sea-level rise, ocean acidity and coastal flooding. The IPCC reports are the world’s most authoritative sources for assessing the science related to climate change.

The message that we received from the IPCC report is very clear, that urgent changes must be made to limit global warming in the Paris Agreement to the 1.5 degree celsius temperature limit while there is time, said Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), Kosi Latu

“The world has already warmed by 1.1 degrees celsius due to human-caused climate change, which has risen the sea level by 20 centimetres, and will continue to do so for thousands and thousands of years to come,” Mr Latu said.

He said the report “spells out alarming consequences if the world fails to listen to the warnings highlighted in this latest IPCC report. Contributing to less than 1% of the world’s total greenhouse gases, we are at the frontline, and amongst the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.”

“We must act and we must act now. For small island developing states, the report confirms that we are already experiencing the most intense tropical cyclones and are increasing in intensity and will continue to do so. We only have to look back in the last three to four years in terms of the impact of tropical cyclones here in the region.”

That same message was reiterated by the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Samoa, Frances Brown-Reupena, who was a keynote speaker at the SPREP organised webinar on Wednesday 25 August. She said the IPCC report continued to highlight the urgency for countries to take strong climate actions to increase resilience and protect livelihoods from the impacts of climate change.

“Pacific Island Leaders are concerned that the impact of natural disasters exacerbated by climate change on Pacific peoples social, economic, cultural and environmental well-being is increasing greatly the burden and risk to the regional security,” Ms Reupena said.

Directly involved in the final approval of the IPCC Working Group I report, Vice-Chair of IPCC Working Group II and Director of the Australian National University Institute for Climate, Energy & Disaster Solutions, Professor Mark Howden emphasised the seriousness of the IPCC report.

“Recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid, intensifying. and unprecedented in many thousands and sometimes millions of years and it’s very clear now that human activities are causing that change,” said Dr Howden.

“If we look at what’s the impact that’s having on extremes, we can see more frequent and more intense extreme heat, rainfall, heavy rainfall is becoming more frequent, more intense, and we see an increased proportion of severe cyclones the category three, four and five cyclones. Drought has increased in some regions, fire weather has become more frequent, and oceans are warming they’re acidifying and also they’re losing oxygen.”

Dr Howden said “all greenhouse gas scenarios are likely to exceed 1.5 degrees celsius in the 2030s. The good news is that in a very low-emission scenario we will only temporarily exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius but then bring temperatures back down – we can make up for lost ground.”

Under a low emission scenario, 70% of the emissions will be absorbed by natural processes, leaving about 30% in the air, and that will stay in the air for hundreds and even thousands of years, according to the report.

Dr Howden sounded the warning that the “climate we will experience in the future depends on the decisions we make now.”

Involvement of Pacific authors in the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

The Australian scientist admits there were very few authors from the Pacific region that were part of the Working Group I and hopes for more engagement from Pacific experts and scientists in the review and compilation of future IPCC reports.

“I think increasingly in the future, we’ll need to have much better representation from the Pacific not only in the author teams, not only from governments having input into the scoping of the reports but also the review of these reports, in terms of generating the underlying science that is represented and synthesizes these reports. It’s a really important process to engage in.”

Dr Morgan Wairiu from the Solomon Islands is the Pacific Coordinating Lead Author of Working Group II of the recently published IPCC report. He supports the call for more experts from Pacific academic institutions and research centres to contribute to the review process and to the literature and other knowledge that is assessed in IPCC reports.

“I encourage some of our colleagues in the Pacific, who are working in the space of science, especially in terms of data and information collection and climate change, to do more publications, because that’s the only way that you can be selected to be an author of the IPCC reports,” said Dr Wairiu.

He encouraged Pacific experts to start as contributing authors and chapter reviewers in the reports to bring Pacific some visibility in the IPCC space.

The natural resource and climate change adaptation specialist shared the opportunities and challenges in his seven-year engagement with IPCC.

“The IPCC provides the space and opportunity to engage with some of the world’s best experts on climate change. We exchange information data and discuss issues that are relevant to the report. It provides the opportunity to know more about the IPCC structure, each reporting system and assessment,” he said.

“The involvement in IPCC brings the Pacific narrative on climate change into the reporting process.”

He admitted the lack of published literature is one of the challenges for Pacific authors.

“We have so many project reports, but it’s very difficult to get those types of reports into the IPCC reporting system. So we need all that information to be published. And it’s quite very difficult to get access to that information.”

The Pacific expert said it requires real commitment to engage in the IPCC work.

Key messages from the IPCC Report

The report is clear in achieving reductions and limiting climate change to some degree, and possibly even turn aspects of it around, according to Dr Howden.

The three key messages from the IPCC report described by Dr Howden:

  • To stay within a carbon budget for any given temperature change 1.5 or two degrees, we need to manage our emissions. 
  • We need to achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions to stop the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and ongoing climate change.
  • Sustained and strong reductions in the emissions of other greenhouse gases like methane, and nitrous oxide, not necessarily down to zero, but nevertheless, very significant reductions.

Ms Reupena said her government looks forward to continuing its partnership with SPREP and the Pacific Climate Change Centre (PCCC) to implement practical solutions and actions to combat climate change and increase the resilience of the Pacific people and communities.

Joining the panel discussion was Dr Michael Grose, a Lead Author of Working Group I and Senior Research Scientist for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.   

They were also joined by representatives of key Pacific climate organisations, including Mr Espen Ronneberg, Director of Climate Change for the Pacific Community (SPC) and Salesa Nihmei, Meteorology and Climatology Adviser for SPREP.

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