Several Pacific Islands nations spoke this past week at the 72nd U.N. General Assembly in New York about the immediate and daily effects of climate change on their shores.
Manasseh Sogavare, the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands said that, “For us Pacific Island nations, climate change continues to be our enemy [and] we are invaded by this enemy every day." He stressed that, “We are ocean people. … It is the foundation of our heritage.” he underscored that the people of these islands are underprivelaged and depend on the ocean for their livelihoods; they are the first to suffer the effects of ocean pollution and contamination.
Taneti Maamau, President of the Republic of Kiribati gave his condolences to the peoples of the Caribbean and Mexico in the wake their recent natural disasters, yet reminded the assembly that “people in Kiribati, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands and the Maldives … continue to suffer on a daily basis from the impact of and the slow onset of climate disaster. This may not capture the attention of the global community due to its slow impact and limited media attention but it is causing pain and suffering in our communities.”
He added that his nation is implementing a 20-year Vision for Kiribati to increase political transparency and the island’s fisheries and tourism industries. He urged the Assembly to create a supranational entity to manage marine biology, all in the name to reach the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, SDG.
King Tupou VI of Tonga, called for the appointment of a UN Special Representative on Climate and Security and stressed that to reach the SDGs all countries need to be dedicated to taking steps to better managing any actions related to the world’s oceans. He added, “We may be small islands [we are all] large ocean States.”
The World Bank reports that the 11 Pacific Island World Bank members, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Federated States of Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu have a combined population of 2.3 million people, spread over 15 percent of the world’s surface. These island nations depend narrowly on tourism and agriculture making them vulnerable to “external shocks,” increasing their economic volatility.
A 2014 World Bank study shows just how vulnerable the Pacific Islands are to extreme weather and climate change saying that tropical storm Evan, which hit Samoa in December 2012 contracted the island's economy by 0.5 percent in 2013 and drove down incomes related to tourism by 6 percent and agricultural outputs by 3 percent, the island's two largest industries.
These leaders drove home the message that island nations of the world bear the brunt of natural disasters caused by climate change.