Kiribati – A Drowning Paradise in the South Pacific

The island nation of Kiribati in the South Pacific is at risk of disappearing into the sea. Climate change is causing sea levels to rise but the island’s inhabitants aren’t giving up. They are doing what they can to save their island from inundation.

Watch video42:55

Kiribati can hardly be surpassed in terms of charm and natural beauty. There are 33 atolls and one reef island — spread out over an area of 3.5 million square kilometers. All have white, sandy beaches and blue lagoons. Kiribati is the world’s largest state that consists exclusively of atolls. A local resident named Kaboua points to the empty, barren land around him and says, “There used to be a large village here with 70 families.” But these days, this land is only accessible at low tide. At high tide, it’s all under water. Kaboua says that sea levels are rising all the time, and swallowing up the land. That’s why many people here build walls made of stone and driftwood, or sand or rubbish. But these barriers won’t stand up to the increasing number of storm surges. Others are trying to protect against coastal erosion by planting mangrove shrubs or small trees. But another local resident, Vasiti Tebamare, remains optimistic. She works for KiriCAN, an environmental organization. Vasiti says: “The industrialized countries — the United States, China, and Europe — use fossil fuels for their own ends. But what about us?” Kiribati’s government has even bought land on an island in Fiji, so it can evacuate its people in an emergency. But Vasiti and most of the other residents don’t want to leave.

Climate change drives Solomon Islands’ people of the sea ashore

The inhabitants of Lau Lagoon in Solomon Islands have lived in harmony with nature for generations. Now their entire way of life is vanishing beneath the waves.

Dotted across the Lau Lagoon are close to 100 tiny, sun- and salt-bleached islands, topped with scrubby, wind-bent trees and clusters of homes built from timber and palm fronds. Some are home to as few as five people, others as many as 400. But a growing number are deserted.

The Lau Lagoon lies at the northeastern tip of Malaita in the Solomon Islands archipelago in the South Pacific. Unlike the large island of Malaita, the lagoon’s atoll is manmade, built from coral heaved up from the lagoon floor and rising an average of just a meter above the high-tide mark.

Locals say the wane i asi, or people of the sea, first built the islands some 18 generations ago – dating them back to the 17th century – to evade the mosquitoes and disease of the mainland, to be closer to the water that provides them with fish and, some say, to avoid conflict with the wane i tolo, or people of the bush.

Since then, the wane i asi have constantly repaired and rebuilt their islands. But now, a practice they has sustained them for hundreds of years is becoming a losing battle.

Rising tides

Climate change means the sea level is rising, storms are intensifying and seasons are becoming unpredictable. Coral is increasingly torn away from the islands and returned to the lagoon floor. These days, repairing them does little more than delay the inevitable.

Solomon Islands has a population of 560,000 people and a growing number of them are being forced to leave their homes – not just in Lau Lagoon, but also low-lying coastal areas on Malaita, and across the entire atoll, one of the world’s largest.

Solomon Islands - Lau Lagoon (Beni Knight)John Kaia says his community’s way of life is being transformed completely by climate change

It has been more than a decade since the island of Tauba in Lau Lagoon was first submerged completely during a high tide.

Tauba Island’s residents belong to two different tribes. John Kaia is chief of one of them, the Aenabaolo. At 52, Kaia says he has witnessed the impacts of the changing climate over his lifetime.

“Before, we used to know the seasons, but now the wind, the rain, the cyclones can come at any time. We don’t know when.” Kaia says. “Cyclones always used to come when the wind was from the west, now they come even when the wind is from the east.”
Climate change changes everything

In July 2015, Cyclone Raquel became the first cyclone on record to hit the South Pacific Ocean in July. It caught Solomon Islanders by surprise and left many villages devastated.

But for a community that has long lived in harmony with nature, even more subtle climatic changes have profound consequences.

“Climate change has not only affected the weather, it has affected everything, the people, the sea, the land, even the food we eat has changed,” Kaia says. “People’s lives have already changed so much.”

The erratic seasons have forced island farmers to resort to chemical fertilizers, which Kaia believes are “harmful to people’s health.”

Even the children’s education is impacted. The only route to their school on Malaita is by boat – dugout canoes equipped with tatty plastic sails. Kaia says unpredictable weather has made these daily journeys dangerous.

Solomon Islands - Lau Lagoon (Beni Knight)Routine journeys across the lagoon are becoming increasingly perilous

“Storms now can happen any day and come very quickly,” he says. “The children must be very careful while in their canoes, if the wind hits their sails hard the canoe can roll over very easily.”

Competition over land 

All this means is more and more wane i asi are relocating to Malaita. But that comes with its own challenges.

The Aenabaolo share a parcel of land on the mainland with three other tribes. Yet Aenabaolo families relocating from Tauba Island have become embroiled in a land dispute, and construction of their new homes is currently on hold by court order.

And they are not alone. With more and more communities displaced, Solomon Islands’ courts are flooded with such cases. Complicated traditional land tenure structures mean they can take years to resolve.

And tribal differences can exacerbate disputes. Communities with distinct cultural practices are increasingly being forced to live in close proximity. A recent history of ethnic violence makes that a concern in Solomon Islands.

The country suffered five years of conflict between the Isatabu people of its main island of Guadalcanal and Malaitans settling on the island, until international peacekeepers arrived in 2003.

A wrench from home

Some wane i asi, like the 20 permanent residents of the tiny island of Taluabu, have no claim to land on Malaita at all. For generations, Taluabu’s inhabitants have been allowed to farm a parcel of land on the mainland, but landowners have refused them permission to settle there.

Solomon Islands - Lau Lagoon (Beni Knight)For a people used to the waves lapping on their doorsteps, giving up life on the water is a wrench

Over the last year, the issue of relocation has moved up the political agenda in Solomon Islands, but there is still a long way to go before government-led plans to safely rehome entire tribes are put into practice.

In the meantime, NGOs and the Anglican Church of Melanesia have been helping displaced communities find land and start new lives.

Lau Lagoon islanders with secure new homes on Malaita, or in the county’s capital of Honiara on Guadalcanal, are among the lucky ones.

But settling into life on mainland is a wrench for the people of the sea, and few cut ties with their atoll homes altogether. Most families return at least once a year. These days, Tauba’s population swells from around 100 people to upwards of 400 at Christmas.

In late 2016, non-governmental organization Displacement Solutions sent photojournalist Beni Knight to Lau Lagoon on the island of Malaita to document the challenges facing island dwellers in the area. DW publishes the exclusive essay and photos here.

DW RECOMMENDS

  • Courtesy, DW

World hunger increases for first time in a decade, topping 800 million in 2016

After steady progress in fighting hunger, the United Nations announced an increase in the number of chronically hungry people for the first time in over 10 years. Some 11 percent of the world’s population is affected.

Two small children eat from bowls of porridge (imago/epd/S. Vogt)

World Hunger is on the rise after years of steady decline, warns a UN report released Friday.

Most of the world’s hungry people are in Asia and Africa, with 520 million and 243 million, respectively. But proportionally Africa is hardest hit, with 20 percent of people not having enough food – in Asia the ratio is 11.7 percent, according to the reported prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Program and the World Health Organization.

Overall, the number of chronically hungry people rose to 815 million, or 11 percent of the world’s population, in 2016. The figure represents an increase of 38 million over the previous year.

It remains to be seen if the change is the start of a new trend or a one-off aberration, but the report attributes the increase to man-made conflicts, a sputtering economy and climate change.

Watch video12:02

East Africa – An end to famine by 2030?

World hunger peaked in 2000 when 900 million people didn’t have enough food. Still, the UN warned the latest figure “is cause for great concern.”

Some 20 million people are at risk of famine in parts of South Sudan, Somalia, northeast Nigeria and Yemen where violent conflicts have created much of the food crisis.

But a slowdown in global growth in recent years, which led to a collapse in the prices of numerous commodities, also had a negative impact on the ability of people in many countries to feed themselves, the UN report said.

“Economic slowdowns in countries highly dependent on oil and other primary commodity export revenues have also had an impact on food availability and/or reduced people’s ability to access food,” said the report.

Children in South Sudan await a humanitarian aid distribution in 2015.Children in South Sudan await a humanitarian aid distribution in 2015

Global warming and hunger

The report also points to a link between climate change and conflict.

It “singles out conflict — increasingly compounded by climate change — as one of the key drivers behind the resurgence of hunger and many forms of malnutrition,” said a joint statement by the UN agencies which drafted the report.

Watch video01:01

Warnings of full-blown famine in Somalia

“The concurrence of conflict and climate-related natural disasters is likely to increase with climate change, as climate change not only magnifies problems of food insecurity and nutrition but can also contribute to a further downward spiral into conflict, protracted crisis and continued fragility,” said the report.

It attributed severe weather, “in part linked to climate change” to the reduced availability of food in many countries

Scientists are hesitant to attribute any one weather event to climate change but there is near unanimity that rising temperatures increase the severity of storms and droughts.

 

bik/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

DW RECOMMENDS

AUDIOS AND VIDEOS ON THE TOPIC

Courtesy, DW

Why Houston Will Never Be Able to Stop

Pause

Mute

Current Time0:03
/
Duration Time1:52
Loaded: 0%

Progress: 0%

Share

Fullscreen

 Flooding for Good

10:28 AM ET

The scale of Hurricane Harvey is unprecedented in U.S. history: more than 50 inches of rain falling in less than a week inundating a city of more than 2 million people.

As Houston begins to recover from the torrential storm that inundated the city’s streets, local leaders will need to grapple with the reality that Hurricane Harvey will not be the last devastating flood to strike the city. The problem is rooted in Houston’s geography, and the challenge facing Houston if city officials want to protect against long-term flood risk would test even the savviest urban planners armed with unlimited resources.

The chief issue is that Houston rose in a flat low-lying area with limited natural drainage. Because the land is flat, most storm water collects rather than flowing away from the city, leaving the lowest points vulnerable to flooding. The low elevation not far from Texas’ coast also means that storm surge — which occurs when storm winds push ocean water ashore — can easily inundate the city.

Read More: Why We Won’t Be Ready for the Next Hurricane Harvey Either

The geology beneath the Earth’s surface also creates problems for the city’s developers. Houston is located largely on clay that does not absorb water easily. The region houses wetlands that can absorb some excess water, but human development has destroyed much of it, including some 38,000 acres in the region in the past two decades alone, according to a Houston Chronicle report.

All those issues leave the city in a difficult rebuilding situation, where rebuilding the same way in the same places means accepting that flooding will likely happen again. “The best they’re going to be able to do is to learn to live with flood risk and reduce it somewhat,” says Chad Berginnis, executive director at the Association of State Floodplain Managers “There probably aren’t enough resources or engineering or technology to solve the flooding problem in Houston 100%.”

Some of the potential flooding solutions are efficient investments that will pay clear dividends in the long run. In many communities, that includes elevating buildings, mapping flood plains and instituting stricter zoning restrictions. Other programs that could have a broader effect— think sea walls in Amsterdam or pumps in Miami Beach — come at a staggering cost, but that scale of initiative is what Houston would need to protect more fully against flooding. In Houston, such an initiative would likely also mean undoing some of the development in some of the most vulnerable places.

“The scale of it is absolutely tremendous,” says Jason Evans, a professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson University. “I don’t know how many billions it would cost but I feel confident to say it would be billions, multiple billions.”

Read More: Is Hurricane Harvey Related to Climate Change? Scientists Have a Better Answer

And, even then, planners may struggle to predict with precision how the flooding challenge will evolve in the coming decades, meaning those investments could end up being ineffective in some of the most dire scenarios. At the heart of that uncertainty is the unknown toll of man-made climate change on the severity of storms. Climate scientists say there is a direct link between higher precipitation levels and warmer temperatures and that cities should therefore prepare for bigger storms in coming years. But, at the same time, scientists cannot say exactly how much worse storms will be or how much sea levels will rise.

“You can imagine a situation where you’re just trying to build things higher and higher and higher,” says Kristina Dahl, a climate scientist who runs Dahl Scientific, a consulting group that works on climate change. “We need to focus on whether these are sustainable places to live in the first place.”

Courtesy, Time

Climate change could make South Asia too hot for human survival by 2100

Global warming scientists have warned that heat levels in South Asia, home to some 1.5 billion people, could reach uninhabitable levels by 2100. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh would be the worst affected regions.

Indien Dürre und Ernteausfall (Reuters/S. Pamungkas)

If climate change continues at its current pace, deadly heatwaves could make large parts of South Asia too hot for human survival by the end of the century, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) warned on Wednesday.

“The most intense hazard from extreme future heat waves is concentrated around the densely populated agricultural regions of the Ganges and Indus river basins,” wrote the authors of the study. Up to 1.5 billion could see their hometowns become impossible to live in.

Read more: Climate change – ‘Asia is paying for the West’s emissions’

Today, around 2 percent of India’s population is exposed to the extreme combinations of heat and humidity analyzed in the study. However, according to the study published in the journal Science Advances, that figure could rise to as much as 70 percent unless major efforts are taken to curb climate-warming carbon emissions.

“Climate change is not an abstract concept, it is impacting huge numbers of vulnerable people,” said MIT professor Elfatih Eltahir. “Business as usual runs the risk of having extremely lethal heat waves.”

‘Wet-bulb temperatures’

Unlike previous climate change and temperature projections, the MIT study also looked at humidity and the body’s ability to cool down, as well as heat levels. The three factors make up what’s called a “wet-bulb temperature,” which is measured by recording the temperature of the air when a wet cloth is wrapped around the thermometer. Climate scientists use this measurement to estimate how easily water can evaporate.

According to climate scientists, humans can survive a wet-bulb temperature of about 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), while anything beyond could cause the body to have difficulty sweating to cool down. Such a phenomenon could lead to heat stroke or even death within just a few hours.

Putting the research findings into perspective, wet bulb temperatures have so far rarely exceeded the already hazardous level 31 degrees Celsius.

It is hard to imagine conditions that are too hot for people to survive for a more than a few minutes, but that is exactly what is being discussed in this paper,” Chris Field, a Stanford University climate scientist who was not involved in the study, told the Associated Press news agency. “And of course, the danger threshold for punishing heat and humidity is lower for people who are ill or elderly.”

Read more: Global warming is reshaping the world’s forests

South Asia’s densely populated farming are likely to fare the worst; deforestation has left workers particularly exposed to the sun, while the rural surroundings leave little chance of people having access to electricity and air conditioning units.

As recently as 2015, a heat wave across India and Pakistan killed some 3,500 people.

World’s hottest region

The study also predicts that the Gulf could become the world’s hottest region by 2100, due to climate change. However, citizens in the region are significantly better off financially than those in the Ganges and Indus river basins, meaning they will be able to better respond to the risks posed by relentlessly blistering temperatures.

The affected South Asia reasons also rely on crops and livestock, while the oil-rich Gulf region imports almost all of its food.

Less developed medical infrastructure in the rural regions of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh would also see diseases and infections flourish in the in the scorching temperatures, compounding the just how dangerous merely venturing outside could become in the coming decades.

Cause for hope

In the study, scientists also estimated wet-bulb temperatures under the scenario in which concerted action was taken was to limit global warming. Although temperatures would still reach dangerous levels of around 31 degrees Celsius – a level considered dangerous but significantly less fatal – the percentage of South Asia exposed to potentially fatal temperatures would increase from zero to just 2 percent.

Watch video02:33

Protecting the planet – without the US

dm/jr (AP, Reuters, AFP)

DW RECOMMENDS

AUDIOS AND VIDEOS ON THE TOPIC

Report: Extreme weather could kill over 150,000 Europeans per year by 2100

Climate research shows that the death-toll from European weather disasters may increase 50-fold by 2100 if no action is taken to curb carbon emissions. Heatwaves will account for 99 percent of all weather-related deaths.

Bulgarien Wetter Hitze (Getty Images/AFP/D. Dilkoff)

The study published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal on Friday warned that deaths in Europe caused by weather disasters would increase from 2,700 deaths a year between 1981 and 2010 to 151,500 deaths a year in the timeframe 2071 to 2100.

The study also projected that around two-thirds of Europeans will be exposed to extreme weather annually by the end of the century.

Read more: Climate change could make South Asia too hot for human survival by 2100

That translates to more than 350 million people per year. By contrast, on average around 25 million people per year were found to have been exposed to weather disasters between 1981 and 2010. Exposure included anything from death and disease, to losing a home.

Watch video26:00

Oxygen and Climate Change

“Climate change is one of the biggest global threats to human health of the 21st century, and its peril to society will be increasingly connected to weather-driven hazards,” said Giovanni Forzieri, who co-led the study on behalf of the European Commission Joint Research Centre in Italy. “Unless global warming is curbed as a matter of urgency and appropriate adaptation measures are taken, about 350 million Europeans could be exposed to harmful climate extremes on an annual basis by the end of this century.”

Researchers analyzed records of weather-related events in the European Union, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland during the 30-year reference period from 1981 to 2010. They then compared this to projections in population growth and migration, as well future heatwaves, droughts, floods and cold snaps.

Read more: Having fewer children: A solution for climate change?

The study was based on the assumption that there would be no drop in the rate of global greenhouse gas emissions and that average global temperatures would rise by 3 degrees Celsius (C) (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100 from their 1990 levels.

Infografik Life Links Verletzlichkeit Klimawandel

Heatwaves still the main killer

The study found that deaths from heatwaves were projected to increase by 5,400 percent and could cause as many as 99 percent of all weather-related deaths.

Meanwhile, coastal floods were projected to increase by 3,780 percent, wildfires by 138 percent, river floods by 54 percent and windstorms by 20 percent.

While climate change will naturally be the principal driver of weather-related disastrous, accounting for 90 percent of the risk, the remaining 10 percent will be spurred by population growth, migration and urbanization, according to the report.

Paul Wilkinson, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who was not involved in the research, said the results were very worrying. “Global warming could result in rapidly rising human impacts unless adequate adaptation measures are taken, with an especially steep rise in the mortality risks of extreme heat,” he said. The study adds “further weight to the powerful argument for accelerating mitigation actions.”

Read more: Climate change is making our summers more extreme

The study comes as much of southern Europe finds itself in the midst of a heatwave with several areas recording temperatures of up to 44C. Italy is seeing temperatures 10C higher than the usual average for this time of year.

On Wednesday, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) warned that large parts of South Asia could become too hot for human survival by 2100. The worst-affected region, which covers India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, is currently home to some 1.5 billion people.

dm/gsw (Reuters, AFP)

DW RECOMMENDS

AUDIOS AND VIDEOS ON THE TOPIC

Courtesy, DW

Trump to announce decision on Paris climate deal Thursday – expected to withdraw

US President Donald Trump has said he’ll announce his decision on the Paris climate accord on Thursday. The European Union has said it stands ready to show leadership in the face of a possible US withdrawal.

Donald Trump waits for the arrival of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Walsh)

US President Donald Trump will announce his decision on US participation in the Paris climate accord on Thursday, he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, sparking a flurry of international responses.

I will be announcing my decision on Paris Accord, Thursday at 3:00 P.M. The White House Rose Garden. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!

“You’re going to find out very soon,” Trump told reporters. “I’m hearing from a lot of people, both ways. Both ways.”

After  G7 talks last week, many fear that Trump will withdraw the United States from the pact. He campaigned on the notion that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by foreign rivals to hamper US trade. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, had helped negotiate the accord in Paris in 2015.

The battle for Trump’s mind on climate

Trump joins G7 summit on climate, trade and terror

Merkel: Europe can no longer rely on US

An anonymous White House official told the Associated Press that Trump was expected to withdraw from the agreement, but said there may be “caveats in the language” that Trump uses, leaving open the possibility that a decision wouldn’t be final.

Several US news outlets including Politico and Axios cited unnamed White House officials for reports that Trump was planning to pull out of the deal.

Axios reported that the White House would either withdraw through a formal process of leaving the agreement or by canceling the UN climate treaty on which the Paris deal is based.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had refused on Wednesday to confirm whether the president already made a decision.

‘Europe ready to show leadership’

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in Berlin that the European Union could not accept a US withdrawal.

“The Americans cannot get out of this climate protection agreement,” he said.

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said in Brussels that a US withdrawal would be disappointing but that the European Union stands ready to take global leadership on the issue.

“If they decide to withdraw, it would be disappointing, but I do not believe this will change the course of history,” Sefcovic said. “There is a much stronger expectation from our partners across the world from Africa, Asia and China that Europe should assume leadership in this effort and we are ready to do that.”

He told Trump that there was “no plan B because there is no planet B.”

Both the EU and China will reaffirm their commitment to the Paris climate change accord this week regardless of Trump’s decision, Associated Press and AFP news agencies reported, citing senior EU officials and a draft joint statement.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was due to meet European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker on Friday with hopes of forging an answer to Trump’s “America First” challenge.

‘Big setback’

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the world to intensify action to combat climate change in a speech Tuesday.

“Climate change is undeniable. Climate change is unstoppable. Climate solutions provide opportunities that are unmatchable,” he said.

I call on world leaders, business & civil society to take ambitious action on climate change.

France’s ambassador to the US said on Wednesday that the Paris climate change deal does not infringe on US sovereignty.

“The Paris accord is a political agreement. It doesn’t infringe on US sovereignty. National commitments are voluntary and may be amended,” Ambassador Gerard Araud said in a tweet, adding that major American corporations had expressed their support for the deal.

Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila told his country’s parliament Wednesday that a US withdrawal would be a big setback.

“If this is true, it is a big setback. Then, we must find partners to continue, because this work must not stop,” he said, adding that climate change was a priority for Finland in the Arctic Council as well as the EU.

Martin Schulz, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, which forms a coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, said a US withdrawal would put European companies at a major competitive disadvantage. Schulz called for future free trade agreements to include stipulations on climate protection standards.

“Climate change is not a fairytale. It is a tough reality which affects peoples’ daily lives,” European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said in a statement.

“People die or are obliged to leave their homes because of desertification, lack of water, exposure to disease, extreme weather conditions. If we don’t act swiftly and boldly, the huge human and economic cost will continue to increase,” Tajani added.

Industry reacts

Smoke billows from a large steel plant as a Chinese labourer works at an unauthorized steel factory (Getty Images/K. Frayer)The US and China are the two biggest carbon dioxide emitters

US coal company shares dipped alongside renewable energy stocks after Trump’s announcement on Wednesday, reflecting concerns of a global backlash against coal interests should the US withdraw.

Tech entrepreneur and Tesla founder Elon Musk said Wednesday he would step down from Trump’s business advisory councils if withdrew from the agreement, potentially deepening the rift between the tech world and the Trump administration, which have been at odds over immigration and other issues.

Climate change deniers in charge

Upon assuming the presidency, Trump set about installing climate change deniers to the US’s highest environmental posts. He has been supported in his efforts by large corporations that deal and coal and petroleum and several prominent Republicans, including the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

The deal would limit warming through a concentrated effort to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases. The United States is the world’s second largest emitter, after China, which has four times the population.

Canada, China, the EU member states and other countries whose efforts to limit global warming are crucial have pledged to remain true to their commitments. At the moment, the only nations that have declined to endorse the pact agreed to by 195 countries are Nicaragua and Syria.

During last week’s summits in Europe, international leaders and even Pope Francis urged Trump not to renege on the deal.

aw, mkg/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

DW RECOMMENDS