There’s a sense of panic every time the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases a report, almost as if, it was a surprise. The great global surprise manifests itself in the usual doom and gloom headlines splashed sensationally across the pages of broadsheets from Paris to New York, from the German Zeitung to the China Daily. The narrative is consistent, fatalistic and alarming, all very reasonable, real and logical conclusions based on the report. But, here’s the thing, Pacific island Leaders have been saying this all along. Every Tuvalu Prime Minister who has touched the marble surface of the United Nations General Assembly podium, has spelled out the very real experiences of the small island atoll on a daily basis due to extreme weather events and rising king tides impacting their people.
The Sixth Assessment Report on the Physical Science Basis may come as a surprise to many, but for the people of the Pacific, these are our lived realities. Cyclones, droughts and floods are a part of our lives. Cyclone warnings are our normal, preparation and recovery come natural to us, because on an island, disasters are so normalized that we take it in our stride as our economies are crippled and lives upended momentarily while we work on regaining a semblance of normality.
So, no, the IPCC AR6 did not come as a surprise at all.
It came as validation, as confirmation once again that islands who are suffering first and worst, continue to pay the price for the emissions of others, for the greed and the sheer disregard for the global good by industrialized nations who continue to put profit over humanity.
The AR6 clearly highlights continued warming, increasing heat extremes and heat stress which in the Pacific would not only cause greater strain to the already struggling health systems of small island states.
The noted effects on oceans such as ocean acidification and marine heatwaves will hit the livelihoods of Pacific people hardest, as many coastal communities depend on the ocean for their sustenance.
Sea levels will very likely continue to rise around Small Islands, more so with higher emissions and over longer time periods and that coupled with storm surges and waves will exacerbate coastal inundation and the potential for increased saltwater intrusion into aquifers. This not only impacts the water sources, but threatens key infrastructure as most Pacific island townships are located in coastal areas.
Further, the IPCC reports that sea level rise will cause shorelines to retreat along sandy coasts of most Small Islands, this has the potential to wipe out entire communities, villages and key cultural sites across the Pacific.
So what more does the world need? Another report? More larger nations to suffer? Because as far as we are concerned, the evidence has been clear for a while, just perhaps not in the scale and the visibility required by the west to make it a serious concern.
My daughter Aolagi (cloud in the sky) was born as a cyclone was hovering over our island, killing the power as I was wheeled into the emergency delivery room. In the same hour Doctors were making their way across flooded roads to camp at the hospital, leaving their families behind, to prepare for the climate emergency that is our constant normal.
Since her birth, Aolagi has lived through four cyclones, her five year old brother Matagi has lived through three. This is the reality of many Pacific children. The same children who have joined in their own quiet ways in the Fridays for Futures movement to elevate the voices of island youth living the real impacts of the climate crisis.
So what do we do now? What do we, as islanders, responsible for only 0.03 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions do in the face of all that is done by the rest of the world? Where do we seek our refuge in a fate determined by others?
Because right now, it seems, we are mere spectators in a calamity where we were involuntarily thrust to the frontlines.