Pacific pays the price for climate change

The Pacific region is more vulnerable to variations in climate patterns than anywhere else in the world. So what economic toll will changes such as rising sea levels have on our closest neighbours?

Pacific pays the price for climate change with rising seal levels having a huge economic tool on the region

Professor Ilan Noy, Chair in the Economics of Disasters at Victoria’s School of Economics and Finance, is calculating the future costs of climate change-related disasters to developing nations in the South Pacific.

“Climatic disasters like storms, droughts, excess rainfall and excessive temperatures are especially problematic for atoll nations like Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands—rising sea levels will hit them harder than anywhere else.” Ilan says the financial toll of sudden onset events is already high for these countries.

“They’re spending a lot of money on recovery, and are also very reliant on the international community for help—that’s where New Zealand has an important role. But the questions for the long term are: What is a sustainable path for the Pacific in terms of dealing with these disasters, and how are they going to pay for it?

“The bulk of financial assistance has always come after the event—if there’s a big cyclone, countries like New Zealand and Australia will send help. But, instead of spending most of our efforts in recovery, we should be spending more on prevention and mitigation.”

Ilan is working with the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank on the research, and is using data collected by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat on disasters in the region. He also has a PhD student, Tauisi Taupo, looking at the vulnerability of Tuvalu.

Ilan suggests better early warning systems are a logical first step for lessening the impact of weather-related disasters. “You get a few days warning for a cyclone, but you might only get minutes or hours if a tsunami’s on its way,” he says. “We need better ways of getting tsunami warnings to remote communities and we need more robust lifelines in a disaster, such as supplies of food and water.” He says cyclone shelters are another way of lessening the impact on people of climate-related disasters.

“This is undoubtedly a problem that goes wider than the Pacific countries that are worst affected. Pacific nations might bear the burden of climate change but it’s certainly not their doing. The onus is on us all.”