“The world’s most beautiful places may disappear”

21 November, 2022

Paradise beaches with swaying palm trees and colorful fish. But also washed away villages, bleached corals and constant worry about the next alarm.

On the frontline of climate change, the Pacific Islands are fighting for their future.

The world’s most beautiful places can disappear, warns Mona Ainu’u from Niue.

mona ainu’u
Mona Ainu’u, Niue’s Minister for Natural Resources, at COP27. Photo: Henrik Montgomery / TT

Niue is a small island in a big ocean. Here it is a tradition to throw your babies into the sea so that they will learn to swim, because the sea is more than just an important source of income. It is also a home and an identity for the 1,600 people who live on the coral island. But Mona Ainu’u, minister responsible for natural resources, is increasingly worried about what lies ahead.

– We are affected so much by climate change, she tells TT’s correspondent at the COP27 climate meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Many effects

Unlike many other island states in the Pacific, Niue is not at risk of having its land washed away by rising sea levels, as the highest plateau is about 60 meters above sea level. However, a rise in sea level threatens to destroy the island’s supply of fresh water.

But these are not the only effects of global warming.

The water in the ocean heats up to a temperature we are not used to. Stocks of fish and clams are declining. The weather pattern is changing. The trees do not bear fruit as they used to because we are affected by droughts, strong cyclones and earthquakes.

The average global sea level has risen by around 25 centimeters since the end of the 19th century. If global warming continues, sea levels could rise by an extra meter around islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans by the end of the century.

Asking for help

That’s still lower than the highest points of the flattest islands, but rising seas will be accompanied by an increase in storms, and saltwater intrusions could make many atolls uninhabitable long before they’re covered by water.

– On Niue we only have one island to live on, there is nowhere else for us to go. The rest of the world must help us, otherwise some of the world’s most beautiful places may disappear, says Mona Ainu’u.

– We suffer the most even though we emit the least and there is nothing we can do about it. We must ensure that global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees, anything else would be devastating for us and our future.

Small emissions

The Pacific islands account for less than 0.03 percent of the world’s global emissions. They demand that the richer part of the world take responsibility and compensate the vulnerable countries for the damages and losses that occur as a result of climate change already now.

Niue’s closest neighbor is Tonga, the world’s third most vulnerable country to climate change, according to the World Risk Index. The island state is one of the lowest-lying countries in the world and the capital, Nuku’alofa, is only two meters above sea level.

– It is very flat, you don’t see any mountains sticking up, says Tonga’s Finance Minister Tiofilusi Tiueti to TT.

tiofilusi tiueti
Finance Minister of Tonga; Tiofilusi Tiueti at COP27. Photo: Henrik Montgomery / TT

For an island facing tropical cyclones and storms, tsunamis, volcanic activity and drought, it is of the utmost importance to have well-functioning warning systems and contingency plans in place. For Tonga, the climate summit’s major issue of contention is about climate damages, what in the UN context is called damages and losses, about being able to protect the population when the next disaster strikes.

Tiueti hopes that COP27 will agree on a new fund for climate damages. But it is also important to simplify access to funds that are in other support funds, he believes.

– There are so many requirements that must be met, we have to set aside a whole department to work on it. It may take 700 days to meet all requirements.

TT: Isn’t there a risk that a new fund will present the same problems? Yes. There will always be bureaucratic obstacles, but we are also discussing how the system can be improved.

Big disappointment

The frustration from the Pacific countries is great during the climate summit, according to Dickson Mua who is the minister responsible for forestry and research and leader of the Solomon Islands delegation at the climate summit.

tiofilusi tiueti
Dickson Mua, Minister responsible for Forestry and Research and leader of the Solomon Islands delegation at the COP27 climate conference. Photo: Henrik Montgomery / TT

– It is disappointing that countries responsible for large emissions do not step forward enough and take their responsibility, he says.

– What is happening in Pakistan will definitely happen in other countries as well, but it will be worst for us low-lying islands, especially in the Pacific. We are very vulnerable.

Text: TT Nyhetsbyrån
Foto: Henrik Montgomery/TT
Foto: Carl Douglas

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