The Solomon Islands climate refugees

The idea that climate change is causing sea level rise is something that has been on people’s minds for the past few decades. Over in the UK, sea level rise is not something that people readily notice, a bit of erosion here, a bit of deposition there, it’s just part of the coastal dynamics. Fly 10,000 miles around the globe to the Solomon Islands and the response is very different.

lost-solomon-islands-map
Figure 1: A map of the 5 islands that have completely disappeared

A story emerged in May 2016 stating that a few of these islands residents had moved to other islands due to the erosion of their own [1]. This did not make huge headlines as this region of the Pacific often has refugees from natural disasters. The reality is that 5 islands had been lost completely between 1947 and 2014 and another 6 had been subjected to severe erosion as seen in Table 1. One of the 6 severely eroded islands (and the only populated one) is that of Nuatambu which has seen a 51% reduction in its habitable area and consequently has lost 11 homes since 2011 [1]. This, albeit small displacement of people compared to the world as a whole is the first case in modern history of people being made ‘climate refugees’.

solomon-island-loss
Table 1: The extent of the Solomon Islands loss

This got me thinking. We have just had the Paris agreement put into force and COP22 happened in November 2016, so did they take into account the Solomon Island’s?

Kind of!

One of the aspects of the Paris agreement is that ‘small island developing states may prepare and communicate strategies, plans and actions reflecting their special circumstances’ [2]. This basically means that if small islands would like a strategy implemented, they need to research and develop it themselves. Asides from this, very little was done to address these communities.

cop22
Figure 2: The COP22 Logo

One of the main outcomes of Paris that affected every ratified country was the decision to limit global temperature rise to ‘well below’ 2⁰C and to ‘strive’ to keep it below 1.5⁰C [3]. This is all very well, but limiting the rate of global temperature increase to 1.5⁰C is not going to help these South Pacific Islands enough as some of which are experiencing 10mm of sea level per year [4]. COP22 however seeming came to the rescue. It was decided that the whole problem surrounding the oceans could not be covered in a few days. Consequently, the ‘UN Conference on the Ocean’ was proposed, of which the introductory meetings are occurring today (15th of February) and tomorrow in New York in order to decide the agenda for the actual meeting on the 5th to the 9th of June 2017 [5]. Politicians will have you believe this is a step forward, whereas I see this simply as a delaying of the inevitable. The fact is that for many Pacific islands it is just too late.

 

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