Who rescues pacific islands from global warming?
It is difficult to say whether monster cyclone Pam is a direct result of climate change. What is certain, is that the condition of low-lying island nations in the Pacific Ocean is awkward.
Four days after cyclone ‘Pam’ hit Vanuatu, much remains unclear. About the damages, and the number of victims.
Fact is that in this part of the Pacific Ocean, the sea level rises about 7 millimeters per year. This is more than twice the world average of 3 millimeters per year.
Climate negotiator Ian Fry Tuvalu: “The IPCC has said in its latest report that this kind of extreme storms are due to climate change.”
For many commentators it is clear that the monster cyclone ‘Pam’ is related to climate change. The President of Vanuatu, Baldwin Lonsdale, blamed climate change directly telling: “This year, the cyclone season was worse than usual, and that was because of global warming.”
But climate change doesn’t cause extreme storms. They are caused by a complex set of circumstances. Climate change can at most contribute to storms coming more extreme or more frequent. But even then, has Lonsdale a point?
Rising temperatures in the atmosphere are an often-mentioned effect of climate change.
- Higher temperature can cause extreme tropical storms, for the simple reason that cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes occur over warm seawater.
- Heat is delivered to the atmosphere and converted into wind energy.
The warmer the oceans, the more extreme storms, is to be believed.
The problem is that the exact relationship between global warming and tropical storms is unclear, says Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, climate researcher at the Dutch Weather Institute (KNMI).
According to the IPCC, there are indications that the most extreme tropical storms will become more extreme, with higher wind speeds and more rain. But this ain’t certain. The climate models of the IPCC are not detailed enough to analyze trends about this type of storm.
Sea Level Rising
The impact of extreme tropical storms is strongly influenced by other effects of climate change: rising sea levels, including the melting of the polar ice caps. That sea level has been risen 20 centimeters in the past century. Particularly low-lying island nations like Kiribati and Tuvalu are vulnerable. Many atolls are already flooded at high tide. Coasts are eroding because the natural coastal barriers, such as coral reefs and mangrove forests, have been receding by heating and by human activities.
And … in this part of the Pacific Ocean, the sea level rises about 7 millimeters per year. This is more than twice the world average of 3 millimeters per year.
“Half of that increase is caused by global warming. The other half we’re not just, perhaps it is natural variation,” says Van Oldenborgh.
Weather Pam is a sign of climate change or just bad luck, the monster cyclone draws attention to the vulnerability of poor island nations like Vanuatu. Cynical said, this ain’t bad. December 2015, at the Global Climate Conference in Paris new global climate goals will be set. Part of this is the start of a fund for small island states, suffering from the consequences of global warming. An initiative of the Small Island Developing States. Leaders of several island nations seized Pam to advocate that case again.
Climate negotiator Ian Fry Tuvalu: “In it’s latest report, the IPCC has said that this kind of extreme storms are due to climate change. This is already happening. Obviously there is a human factor causing these cyclones. We need to do something about it. Not only disaster aid, but also preventive measures such as coastal protection and (NASA) alarm systems.
But even when this climate fund will be agreed, it does not mean that all the Pacific islands are save. Some atolls are too small and too fragile and perhaps, they must be specified.
The Pacific might get the scoop getting the first climate refugees. Last year, New Zealand already accepted the first one.
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