Those involved in international climate policy often hear about the plight of Pacific Island states in the face of climate change (though, some argue, this has not been met with adequate attention by academic researchers). But in order to avoid becoming desensitized to the concerns of this part of the world, it is important to revisit and reprocess some of the serious dangers these nations face. A new synthesis report from the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement, which follows a series of workshops last May, continues to shine a light on the problem, identifying the simple fact that these countries face the worst of both kinds of climate-exacerbated natural disasters: sudden-onset and slow-onset. As the report states:
“Sudden-onset disasters— such as cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and flooding—have been and remain frequent, feared and deadly. The number of sudden-onset disasters has increased significantly since 1950, the severity of hurricane-strength cyclones has grown, and the total population affected per event has been increasing—the result of population growth, rapid urbanization and environmental degradation.
But the Pacific region does not only experience the effects of sudden-onset disasters, but also slow-onset disasters—such as droughts, riverine erosion, coral bleaching and increasing salination of its soils and water, often aggravated by human-caused environmental damage and industrial development. Climate change is likely to exacerbate both sudden-onset and slow-onset disasters. This is why Pacific Island countries are justifiably regarded as being on the “front line” of the effects of climate change, and therefore in need of international attention and assistance.”
However, the authors wisely caution readers and practitioners not to treat the Pacific Island nations as mere aid receptacles (or an “aid-recipient area”) but rather, as a key “knowledge-supplying area” – “i.e. an area that is able to offer information and valuable knowledge germane to the climate change concerns of the international community worldwide.”
In summary, we need to pay attention to the Pacific Island nations – both because of the scale and severity of natural disaster challenges they face, and because of the relevance of their experience in helping the international community prepare for the risks of climate change.