Climate changes mean tough times ahead for Pacific islands

 Australian scientists have  released a new report on climate change in the Pacific detailing rising sea levels, increasing temperatures andincreases in ocean acidity with  drastic implications for coral-based eco-systems from hitting home in less than 40 years.

“The Pacific is getting hotter, sea-levels are rising, rainfall is changing, and equatorial winds have weakened,” said researcher, Australian Bureau of Meteorology senior principal scientist, Dr Scott Power. “Further sea-level rises in response to human-forced warming appear inevitable”. But the magnitude of these changes could be mitigated if greenhouse gas levels were reduced.

The peer-reviewed report, Climate Change in the Pacific: Scientific Assessment and New Research  involved more than 100 Australian and Pacific island researchers and is the first time a comprehensive country-specific assessment has been conducted for 15 nations, including  the Cook Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, the  Solomon Islands,, Marshall Islands, PNG, East Timor, and Vanuatu. The 530-page report will be presented at the Conference of the Parties (COP17) meeting in Durban starting next week — where the incoming New Zealand government is expected to rush a Climate Change Minister immediately after this weekend’s election.

The report today warned many people on Pacific Islands were facing serious and immediate challenges from climate change, which included tough times for for economic activities, such as agriculture and tourism, as well as individual livelihoods and ecosystems.

There was only very limited specific scientific information available to these countries, and the Pacific Climate Change Science Program (PCCSP) was aiming to help fill this gap by examining past climate trends and variability and providing regional and national climate projections.

Projected regional warming was up to 1degC by 2030, and up to 1.3degC by 2055. If future global greenhouse gas emissions were low, by 2090 warming would be up to 2degC, and if they were high, up to 3degC. Large increases in the incidence of heatwaves, and extremely hot days were also projected.

A lift in mean annual rainfall for nations such as the Cook Islands, Fiji, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu would include torrential downpours that currently only happened once every 20 years — by 2055, they would happen four times a year, and by 2090, seven times a year.  This would increase the risks of erosion and landslides on some islands, but there would be fewer droughts.

Recent research showed a  global-mean sea-level rise of more than 2m by 2100 was “physically untenable” and a more plausible estimate was 800mm, with an global-averaged  upper-end sea-level rise scenario of 550mm to 1.1m by 2100, and for the Pacific islands, the total sea-level rise was likely to be slightly-larger than the global average.

Increased ocean acidification  was likely to be a major problem for coral reefs — and the eco-systems based on them — by 2050, combined with the storm damage from more intense cyclones,  and effects of coral bleaching, and increased pressure on fish stocks, said a CSIRO principal research scientist, Kevin Hennessy.

A briefing for journalists held by our colleagues at the Australian SMC can be heard here:

Some of the links available to the projections for specific island nations include:
Cook Islands (brochure) or (full paper)
Samoa (brochure) or (full paper)
Tonga (brochure) or (full paper)
Tuvalu (brochure) or (full paper)
Niue (brochure) or (full paper)