Feature

An unfair climate

Green Lifestyle

How those communities that are contributing the least to climate change are suffering the greatest impacts from it.

Losa Telesias house, Tuvalu.

Teuga Patolo walking in waters surrounding Losa Telesias' house, on the Pacific Island of Tuvalu, during the annual King Tide.

Credit: Rodney Dekker for Oxfam Australia

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Imagine with me that you are being placed in a life-threatening situation, and it is not your doing. It’s because of the action of your wealthy neighbours who are not going to have the same devastating impact as you. Seem fair? I don’t think so either…

Now, take a moment with me to realise that so many of the poorest communities in the world are suffering because of the actions of the richest nations. While Australia is feeling the effects of climate change, it’s the people in developing countries who are bearing the brunt of it. Seem fair? I don’t think so either…

Like so many island nations, The Republic of Kiribati is among the most vulnerable places to climate change. It is a very tiny island, covering 810 square kilometres, and it’s also one of the lowest-lying Pacific Island states; just 2–3 metres above the sea level. The sea, which has sustained the country for generations, is now the source of its destruction.

Rising sea levels are not the only concern, as Kiribati Climate Advocate, Maria Tiimon Chi-Fang says: “The situation in Kiribati is dangerous… many i-Kiribati [Kiribati inhabitants] have problem with water coming from underneath the soil that destroys plantations – different weather patterns, strong storms from different directions, soil erosion and longer droughts adds to their struggle to live.”

According to the World Bank report, Kiribati’s capital of Tarawa, where nearly half the population lives, will be 25–54% inundated in the South and 55–80% in the North by 2050 due to sea level rise, poisoning of groundwater, destruction of arable land and spread of disease.

“The people of Kiribati contribute very little to climate change, yet experience the greatest impact of climate change,” Tiimon Chi-Fang said. “I strongly feel it is unjust.”

The latest report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns greenhouse gas levels are at their highest they have been in 800,000 years, with recent increases mostly due to the burning of fossil fuels. The report found the Earth is headed towards at least 4°C warming by 2100, much higher than the 2°C goal world government set in 2009. It suggests renewables have to grow from their current 30% share to 80% of the power sector by 2050.

“Australia can move to 100% renewable energy in 10 years with the political will to do so,” says CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions, Dr Stephen Bygrave, who has worked on climate change for 20 years, across renewable energy, energy efficiency, transport, agriculture and forestry. “Our research shows that there are a number of renewable technologies that will enable power generation 24-hours a day.”

The key technologies are Concentrated Solar Thermal to use solar energy and Pumped Storage Hydro to pump seawater with wind turbines to generate power. Bygrave says, “All the other inhabitant continents are adopting such technologies except Australia."

Australia has the highest average solar irradiation of any continent. It’s Australia’s largest energy resource but most of its solar energy is where most Australians are not.

Despite, Tony Abbott’s insistence that the focus of discussion should be on economic reform, US President Barack Obama placed climate change at the forefront of the G20 summit that was held in Brisbane late last year. Obama announced a $3 billion contribution to the Green Climate Fund, urging other nations to also tackle the global warming problem.

As a global community, it’s also important that we pay careful attention to what will actually happen to people that are going to be (or already have been) displaced. Scott Leckie, Director of global NGO, Displacement Solutions, made the implications of this broader problem clear on his new book – Land Solutions to Solve Climate Change Displacement.

“The Australian Government has no policy at all on land resources affected by climate change, and despite being the developed country geographically closest to more frontline states already grappling with climate displacement – has done nothing to assist them,” Leckie said.

According to The UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, the global scale of climate displacement is higher now than at any time since the end of World War II.

“For countries like Kiribati and range of other countries in the Pacific; it is almost impossible to envision the country whereby they look the same as they do now in 100 years and there is very little place for people to go internally.”

Mr Leckie added: “For vast majority of people who will be displaced, there are domestic national solutions available – finding land or resources for particular communities that are forced to flee by having policies and laws that match the needs of people concerned.”

The book estimates that anywhere between 12.5 million to 50 million acres of land would be a reasonable estimate of the physical amount of land that would be required to provide various land-based solutions to the world's climate displaced population.

These are the facts. Do they seem fair? ... I don’t think so either.