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Climate

Climate change: The 'greatest threat' to the peoples of the Pacific

Amid growing concerns over rising sea levels, this year's Pacific Islands Forum summit has started. Its Secretary General Tuiloma Slade reiterates that climate change threatens the viability of the forum's member states.

The Pacific Ocean is "under siege" and with it its small islands states - that was the message given by the President of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, at the opening ceremony of the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum in Koror on July 29. The three-day meeting is being used as an opportunity to draw international attention to the impact of climate change on the region ahead of a United Nations special summit on the issue in September.

The majority of the countries represented in the forum are small islands in the Pacific that lie barely a meter (three feet) above sea level and face submersion should sea levels continue to rise. The island nations have been calling for a globally coordinated response on climate change for years, saying it is "threatening to wipe entire states off the map."

In a DW interview, the Secretary General of the Forum, Tuiloma Neroni Slade, says that overfishing, pollution and rising ocean temperatures are some of the biggest challenges faced by the Pacific Islands given that these can destroy whole economies and people's livelihoods.

DW: What is the biggest challenge facing your member states?

Tuiloma Neroni Slade: It is difficult to identify just one issue as being the most critical since the challenges are interrelated, and will vary depending on country-specific circumstances. We are all faced with significant challenges as the ocean comes under increasing pressure. Overfishing, pollution, the impact of ocean acidification and warming ocean temperatures as a result of climate change all have the potential to devastate marine ecosystems, economies and livelihoods. Increased action and integrated approaches are required to manage this important asset.

Tuiloma Neroni Slade : The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands, copyright: Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

Tuiloma Neroni Slade says In the longer term, sea level rise may threaten the security and very viability of these countries

The Pacific Island states have been some of the most vocal regarding the impact of climate change. Will this summit forum call on the international community to take action in this regard?

Over the few years, leaders have consistently reaffirmed climate change as the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of peoples of the Pacific. I don't want to preempt decisions to be made by leaders at this forum, however it is highly likely that they will discuss global efforts to address climate change.

They will probably also consider the need for developed countries to take concrete steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, ease access for Pacific Island Countries to international climate change financing, capitalization of the Green Climate Fund, and agreeing on a new global climate agreement in 2015. These discussions are important leading to the International Small Island Developing States Conference in Samoa and the UN Secretary General's Summit on Climate Change later this year.

What are the populations of the smaller Pacific island nations especially afraid of?

A host of factors ranging from their small population, a limited natural resources base and constraints on administrative capacity make these countries particularly vulnerable to all forms of external pressures and shocks. The particular vulnerability of Smaller Island States to the impacts of climate change is internationally acknowledged.

What would happen to the populations of the smaller Pacific island nations should sea levels continue to rise at the present rate?

Without an urgent and concerted global effort to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, Pacific smaller island states expect to face increasing impacts from climate change such as extreme weather, increased temperatures and inconsistency in rainfall. These impacts may lead to loss of life, a reduction in agricultural productivity, reduced availability of freshwater, and damage to infrastructure and assets. In the longer term, sea level rise may threaten the security and very viability of these countries.

What action have your member states committed to in terms of curbing the rising sea levels?

Although Pacific Island Countries' collective contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is insignificant, the region is doing its part and is showing leadership at the highest political level to confront this global challenge. At their meeting in Majuro last year, leaders endorsed the "Majuro Declaration on Climate Leadership," which was a voluntary commitment by Forum member states and partners to take action on climate change.

At the national level, Forum Island Countries have implemented measures to increase energy efficiency and utilize renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Countries have also taken action to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change, including upgrading infrastructure, developing salt tolerant crops, installing rainwater collection systems, and planting and rehabilitating mangroves.

Tuiloma Neroni Slade is the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum.