TODAY (Aug 19), World Humanitarian Day, we remind the world that we are facing a climate emergency, DIRK WAGENER, United Nations Resident Coordinator in PNG, writes
WORLD Humanitarian Day is recognised every year by bringing together partners from across the humanitarian system and beyond to advocate for the survival, well-being, and dignity of people affected by crises, and for the safety and security of aid workers.
Though we are still in the midst of a pandemic, climate change has not slowed down.
Last year, like every year, humanitarian organisations and workers helped people affected by extreme weather-related events.
Twelve of the 20 countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change issued humanitarian appeals for global assistance.
The climate crisis is right before our eyes – tens of thousands of Papua New Guineans, many living on atolls, islands and in coastal communities, are already feeling the very real effects of climate change.
Rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, and more frequent and intense weather, are eroding coastlines and bleaching corals, salinating water tables, causing flooding and drought and affecting both home gardens and cash crops.
The climate emergency is taxing the food security, access to water, healthcare, housing, and livelihoods of the most vulnerable in PNG at a scale that neither they nor humanitarian organisations can manage.
The Carterets Islanders of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville are among the world’s first people to undergo organised relocation due to rising sea levels.
Between 2007 and 2011, just 10 families successfully relocated to Tinputz on the main island of Bougainville.
While there have been attempts since as early as the 1980s to relocate the islanders, most have not succeeded and there are more people than ever living in the atoll.
But they are not alone.
The islands and atolls in Milne Bay, Huon Bay, the Admiralty Islands and elsewhere are also rapidly shrinking as the sea level rises while their populations continue to grow.
It is not just the island and coastal communities reeling from the impact of the climate crisis.
The climate is changing everywhere in PNG.
Coupled with rising populations, it means there are more people competing for fewer and scarcer resources and viable land.
People living in fragile circumstances feel the effects most severely.
Pushed out of their homes, they become more vulnerable to disruptions in food production and supplies, diseases, and malnutrition.
Women and girls are particularly vulnerable, often lacking access to the resources and assets they need to cope with disasters.
They are at heightened risk of sexual violence and sometimes forced to resort to negative coping strategies, such as dropping out of school to work or being forced into early marriage.
The humanitarian system has an important role in the fight against the climate emergency.
It must advocate for the most vulnerable and marginalised people affected by disasters.
It also offers solutions to help anticipate specific climatic shocks, such as storms, floods, or droughts, and to mitigate their humanitarian impact.
To address the increasing risks of living in a warmer world, we must become “climate smart”.
This could include taking anticipatory action ahead of a crisis, based on early warnings.
We need to scale up the activities triggered by a forecast, such as providing cash, sanitation and hygiene kits, or shelter tool kits to safeguard livelihood measures, including livestock evacuations and forecast-based financing.
The risk-informed early action partnership (Reap), launched at the UN Climate Action Summit in 2019, aims to make 1 billion people safer from disaster by 2025.
The partnership between climate, humanitarian and development communities will drive a systemic shift towards acting earlier to reduce the impacts of disasters, mobilise commitments and inspire action.
But we cannot accept climate disasters as inevitable.
We must work in solidarity to mitigate and reverse the effects of climate change.
Global solidarity begins with delivering on the US$100 billion (about K351 billion) pledge made by developed countries in 2009.
The world’s richest governments agreed to increase climate-related finance for vulnerable countries to US$100 billion annually by 2020.
Under the Paris Agreement, they pledged to negotiate a yet-higher amount that would begin from 2025.
Ahead of COP26, the UN summit on climate change that will take place in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov 1, it is essential that developed countries deliver on their US$100 billion commitment.
We live in a world where the average global temperature is already 1.2°C warmer than the pre- industrial level from 1850 to 1900.
We are headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of 3° to 5°C this century.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies estimates that following climate-related disasters, the number of people in humanitarian need could double to over 200 million by 2050, and humanitarian funding needs could increase to US$20 billion (about K70 billion) annually by 2030.
On Aug 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its sixth assessment report demonstrating that global heating is continuing to rise.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said of the IPCC report: “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”
He added that, “global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible”.
Particularly in PNG, which has relied on forestry and the extractive sector for development, this is an opportunity to reaffirm that investing in renewable energy and sustainable production need not come at the expense of development.
At the same time, I encourage the Government of PNG and the private sector to invest more in disaster risk reduction, climate change mitigation, and adaptation actions to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of the country.
It is critical that those who see their livelihoods tied to fossil fuels and deforestation recognise that, as Antonio Guterres has said: “The climate crisis poses enormous financial risk to investment managers, asset owners, and businesses.”
Pursuing quarterly profits at the expense of the planet will be short lived, creating devastating consequences not for generations in the distant future, but for people and communities within the next decade.
The United Nations in PNG is joining this global conversation with the release of a new documentary highlighting the experience of communities affected by climate change and the organizations and initiatives working to support these communities.
This documentary will be released on Aug 19 on UNDP’s YouTube channel.
PNG is one of the nations most vulnerable to climate change.
The impacts are already here.
Let’s aim to show solidarity with affected communities.
Time is running out.
This World Humanitarian Day is an opportunity to call on leaders – in Government and in business – to avert the climate emergency.