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Bonn, 9 November, 2017: Participants of a side event on Limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C at COP23 were informed that our current trajectory towards 4°C degree Celsius increase since pre-industrial level is far from the letter and spirit of the Paris Agreement and it is also irresponsible towards people and the planet, and its impact for Pacific islands remains existential. The event co-organised by International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) discussed implications on food security, displacement and migration.

Moderated by PIDF Program Team Leader, Mark Borg, PIDF Secretary General firstly expressed gratitude to ICARDA, for giving the opportunity to the Pacific to have a voice through being represented on the event panel and on the importance of limiting temperatures to no more than 1.5°C and the importance in keeping the momentum towards high ambition and urgency over the three years remaining in the lead to the Paris Agreement start of implementation in 2020.

“Today we are gathered here at a most important time because this year, during this COP presidency that has been entrusted to Fiji, a Pacific island country and a prominent member of my organisation, PIDF, is the year when we have the opportunity to pursue high ambition and urgency for Small Islands and vulnerable developing states, at a time where discussions on the rulebook, could become an excuse for delaying high ambition and implementation by many Parties that have ratified the Paris Agreement,” said Secretary General François Martel while delivering the keynote address at the event.

The side event discussed the relevance of temperature targets on two important issues, food security, on which human life itself depends and on which many farmers, fishers and growers are invested in for their livelihoods, and displacement of people and communities as a result of climate change and reduce opportunities to sustain their livelihoods.

“The implications of not limiting temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius are mindboggling to say the least but in the Pacific, we are already experiencing its effects while the 1.5°C still poses serious adaptive challenges for SIDS and vulnerable countries to keep the target alive remains essential to minimize loss and damage in the future,” said the Secretary General.

He elaborated that scientist’s research and recent events and observations confirm a steep rise in occurrence of hot temperature extremes by 15% across the tropics and significant increase in heatwave duration to 2 months per year. It also reveals robust increase in extreme precipitations by 7 to 8%, in fact observational records of 0.5°C global warming show significant differences already 1°C increase in hot temperature extremes and 9% increase in extreme precipitation intensity and for islands, decreased survival of tropical coral reefs – with coral reef degradation up to 70% at 1.5°C.

The participants were told that higher risk of extreme El Niño events increased by 130%, referring to droughts and category 4 and 5 cyclones at 1.5°C and increase in extent and rate of sea-level rise by 40 cm by the end of the century, although recent projections show a far larger increase of up to 3 metres, and already islands disappearing have been recorded in the Pacific.

For Pacific Islands – this list of climate-related outcomes has major impacts on food security.  In Melanesia and many part of Micronesia and Polynesia, more than 75% of food proteins come from coastal fisheries and marine resources and in return sustainable coastal fisheries depend on a healthy lagoons, reefs, mangroves and oceans, all marine ecosystems currently threatened by climate change and marine pollution at an incredible scale, with evidence of coral reef bleaching across the Pacific Ocean.

“By extension, reduce access to drinking water is accentuated by climate change in the forms of increase in water salinity and droughts and these further will and already have led to internal climate-induced displacement and to potential for extensive migration in cases of island-wide climate disasters, particularly on low-lying atolls of the Pacific, found in almost all our countries. All these above are exponentially impacted by climate-induced disasters,” said Secretary General Martel.

The PIDF Secretary General indicated that climate induced migration has been happening for a while now and this is further recognized in the millions of displaced people by the International Organisation on Migration.

“The Pacific is also experiencing its own silent and creeping crisis as many people on the atolls have moved from their own smaller islands to the larger islands partly because the changes in the climate are making it so much harder for them to meet their needs for their families’ livelihoods,” said the Secretary General.

He highlighted that this is happening by people taking their own initiative to do so and we see mobility within the countries in the Pacific and, in some instances, between countries with the larger countries accepting people from neighbouring smaller countries.

“But now we see this happening as an exercise of the state where whole villages are being relocated to higher grounds because their villages are being inundated by sea level rise or they have been completely destroyed by the increasing severity of cyclones, with category 5 cyclones now becoming the norm for us.”

Secretary General Martel illustrated that Fiji has relocated completely three villages in the last couple of years with some other sixty villages waiting to be relocated based on the government’s vulnerability assessment. Moving people to new locations is not a decision to be taken easily. Pacific people have a special attachment to their land, as it is ancestral and customary owned and this can be quite heart breaking for these affected communities with strong impacts on culture and traditions.

“This is why we stress the urgency and the need for ambition in these negotiations and the need to limit temperature rise to 1.5⁰C, not because we will have a rosy climate at 1.5⁰C, if what we are experiencing at 1⁰C is anything to go by but it will at least give us a fighting chance. Anything beyond 1.5⁰C will leave us no hope,” he said.

The Secretary General concluded by emphasising that PIDF is calling for accelerating the phasing-out of fossil fuels, the technologies that depend or use them and advocate for a future towards low-carbon development strategies and a paradigm shift towards sustainable green and blue economies.