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Climate Change in PNG – what could be done to address


THE climate is changing and most people are aware of this fact that there is tangible change in the temperature. The earth has reportedly gone through very warm periods from 22°C some 50 to 70 million years ago and very cold periods at 6°C some 600,000 years ago. Currently the average global temperature is 14°C, according to experts.

Over the years, most of this variation was caused by the elliptical orbit the earth takes around the sun or by the release of carbon by extreme volcanic periods such as the uplift of the Himalayas 60 million years ago.

By going through the effects of these historical events, people have a good understanding of what the impacts of rising global temperatures caused by the release of carbon may have for the future of the Earth.

The history of climate science is thus relatively very recent. The first scientist to publish on the subject was recorded as Svante Arrhenius in 1896 who hypothesize that ‘the emission of carbon dioxide by human activities would amount to prevent the world from entering a new Ice Age’. This theory is applicable today.

A published report in 1979 predicted that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would double from its pre-industrial levels by about 2035. Today it is expected this will happen by about 2050. A doubling of the carbon dioxide would lead to an average warming of the planet of 2°C to 3°C.

The temperature at the Polar Regions would increase by approximately 12°C and the tropics by less than 1°C. These predictions are already coming true, with record meltings of the Arctic Sea ice during summer.

In Papua New Guinea, the 2011 Pacific Climate Change science program reported that temperatures would rise by between 0.4°C and 1.0°C by 2030.

Kavulik Village in Tsoi Island, New Island Province is already showing issues of climate change evident through the rise of sea level, indicating a change of the atmospheric temperatures. 

In North Solomon province, at only 1.5-meters above sea level at their highest point, the Carteret Islanders are some of the first people to succumb to the rising ocean tides in Papua New Guinea and perhaps recorded one of the first Climate Refugees in the world.

The Islanders have secured land for new homes on the main island of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. Spokesperson of the Island people Ursula Rakova says the encroaching tides on the islands have a major impact on people's health.

"We're beginning to get more requests for people wanting to move because of the situation worsening due to increase water levels and the dire need for food on the island," she said.

With no cash economy on the Carterets Island, the only source of food is what people are able to grow for themselves. The relocations are also vital to give more space to those who want to stay on the islands.

Giving justice to the elderly is the most important thing that Tulele Peisa can do. The elderly people do not want to move,” Rakova says.

An area of 25 hectares of land from the Catholic Church was made available for the Islanders, just enough to resettle about 100 people from 10 families.

But the access to safety and secure land is only half the battle.

"Building houses for the families to live in is our biggest hurdle at the moment," she says.

"We have to keep looking for funds to build homes before we can actually move more islanders to mainland Bougainville," she added. 

In addition to growing their own food, the relocated families also send food and planting materials back home to help supplement what the islanders are able to grow.

Tulele Peisa has also provided thousands of mangrove seedlings to prevent the erosion of the coastline, and helped to build raised garden beds.

"Those are adaptation strategies, they aren't really long-term solutions to containing the islands, because we know the islands are going, but we are looking at supporting our families," Ms Rakova said.

She says the islanders want to maintain their independent way of living but that the international community should provide more support.

"The islanders on the Carterets are victims of what other people have caused and the international community needs to aid and support the work that we are doing," she says.

"We have found our way forward and we would like to share the way forward with other people, but we need this process to be funded financially so that we can continue to sustain ourselves," she added.

Sea levels are rising at 7.0 mm a year in the vicinity of PNG, double the global average of 2.8mm to 3.5mm a year.

The sea level is affected by the phenomena El Nino-Southern Oscillation. This is a rise of 140mm in the last 20 years.

The impacts of these forecasted changes are many and significant. Regions like Momase are wetter and therefore the Lae roads, Highlands Okuk Highway and Wau/Bulolo road will continue to require increased maintenance due to wash outs unlike before.

The rainfall in Lae has increased by approximately 500mm per annum or nearly 11%.

IZ3W, an organization based in Germany, alludes that reducing emissions from deforestation and increasing forest restoration will be extremely important in limiting global warming to 2°C.

In fact, forests represent one of the largest, most cost effective climate solutions available today. Action to conserve, sustainably manage and restore forests can contribute to economic growth, poverty alleviation, rule of law, food security, climate resilience and biodiversity conservation.

Such statements are often accompanied by a complaint that forests do not get enough attention as a potential solution to climate change.

Like the deadpan comic Rodney Dangerfield, forests “don’t get no respect” when it comes to their potential as a solution to climate change.

There’s straightforward question to ask to test whether this is true: Are forests mentioned in the 2015 Paris Agreement?

The answer is ‘yes’, forests are included in two paragraphs of the Paris Agreement. A third paragraph is devoted to finance for protecting forests.

And another paragraph discusses a carbon trading mechanism, REDD plus, which is of crucial importance to all this talk of forests in the UN climate negotiations.

A more interesting question to ask, since the Paris Agreement is supposed to be about addressing climate change, is whether fossil fuels are mentioned in the Paris Agreement?

And for this the answer is ‘no’. There is no mention of how we are to keep fossil fuels in the ground, which is the only way that we can prevent climate chaos.

These are some underlining reasons why some countries continue to ignore green energy and heavily involved in the extraction, usage and trading of fossil fuels.

REDD plus, as a carbon trading mechanism, is to avoid emissions from deforestation could offset continued emissions from burning fossil fuels.

A Benoit Bosquet of World Bank said the facility’s ultimate goal is to jump-start a forest carbon market that tips the economic balance in favour of conserving forests.

The obvious problem with trading the carbon stored in forests against continued greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels is that carbon trading does not reduce emissions.

At best it simply transfers emissions reduced in one part of the world, to continued pollution somewhere else.

To prevent climate chaos, we need to reduce greenhouse emissions and stop deforestation. We cannot trade off one against the other.

PNG along with Costa Rica successfully presented the proposal on REDD plus to UN Climate Meeting, both are now leaders in the Coalition of Rainforest Nations globally.

In 2003, the World Bank offered PNG a US$17 million loan if the country closed down its notoriously corrupt logging industry.

Few years later, part of Kevin Conrad’s thesis for MBA at Columbia University included looking at whether the money from carbon credits could equal the revenue from logging in Papua New Guinea and the finding was that it could.

Today, a smart project to sustain the tropical rainforests by providing incentives to indigenous forested landowners in Papua New Guinea has emerged.

T4G PNG project is a digital platform for implementing REDD+ programs in Papua New Guinea in association with PNG Climate Change and Development Authority (CCDA).
Utilizing the distributed leger technology, it provides solutions to the problems encountered by indigenous landowners regarding ownership and benefit sharing including payments of their land resource and forest royalties and equities.

Peter S. Kinjap is a freelance writer and a blogger, email: pekinjap@gmail.com 

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