Adaption planning to climate change in the Pacific Ocean islands

Adaption planning to climate change in the Pacific Ocean Islands

Global warming the resultant climate change have turned the heads of the human population in every corner of the globe. Indeed it has taken the global population quite sometime to accept that global warming is here with us not as a myth but as a reality whose effects are manifested in our everyday life. With skepticism, this little known phenomenon was dismissed by many as scientific trickery during the early days of its manifestation. Currently, the world has embraced it and serious consideration is being given to it due to the eminent danger it poses to the flora and fauna of the earth. From prominent world leaders like Al Gore to the little children in rural schools, the call has been one: global warming is a reality we must live with. From homes in the remotest part of the world, to the exquisite offices in the middle of the cities, this message has been echoed. Children in schools study it in their schools’ syllabi at every level of education. In the same spirit parents and world leaders have organized thousands of conventions, seminars, workshops and conferences to tackle this phenomenon. These just show how serious an issue global warming and hence the need to go beyond just understanding its definition.

Climate change is threatening to wipe out not only animal and plant species but also humans. Many plants and animal species are incapable of adapting to sometimes extreme weathers such as flooding, extremely high amounts of rainfall and drought conditions. With glaciers and ice melting gradually especially in the Polar Regions and mountain tops, the sea level is slowly rising because of the increased amount of water in the seas (Pao-Shin & Huaiqun, 2005). Many islands in the oceans and seas such as the Pacific Islands are slowly submerging. With extreme weather and submerging islands, climate has and will damage more than just properties. It has and will continue to claim more and more lives. The dangers are clearer today and therefore, the need to tackle climate change more urgent. The islands including the Pacific Islands are at a greater risk; they are vulnerable because of their location in the seas. Unfortunately, most of the activities leading to climate change are carried out miles off the islands; in the mainland especially in developed countries. From burning of fossil fuels to drive industrialization and production of greenhouse gases from farms and industries, climate is caused by a wide array of human activities. While forces of nature such as volcanic eruptions have been known to contribute to global warming and consequently change, their effects are relatively insignificant when compared to human activities. To mitigate these effects, it is therefore imperative that adaption planning is adopted in the Pacific Islands and countries beyond.

Pacific Ocean Islands: An Introduction

Located in the Pacific Ocean, Pacific Islands are comprised of over 30,000 political units or archipelago and home to millions of people and plants and animal species. These islands are renowned for their exquisite and magnificent beaches, unique cuisine, warm weather and unique cultural heritages which have made them preferred tourist and holiday destinations for many people around the world. However, if the events that have been witnessed in some islands such as the slow submergence of Kiribati, inundation of Solomon Islands due to extremely high amounts of rainfall and the heat wave that left many dead in Australia are anything to go by, then the beauty of these islands with be lost in next coming decades if the situation is not arrested. Lives will continue to be lost while many will continue to lose their source of livelihood.

Climate Change and Global Warming: Definition

Global warming is a phenomenon characterized mainly by gradual but steady increase in the atmospheric temperature. Though believed to have begun several decades back, the most significant increase in temperature of the earth’s atmosphere was recorded in late 20th century. This era is attributed to exponential upsurge in the rate of industrialization and human population. Since then, scientists all over the world have recorded and still project a rise in the atmospheric temperatures. Climate change is the shifting of climatic conditions of the world’s conventional climatic regions as a result of global warming. Mostly gradual, climate change is characterized by extreme weather conditions including higher than expected amounts of rainfall and unexpected drought conditions. The current atmospheric temperatures are the warmest for over 4,000 years. And the future holds no respite if the projections by the scientists are anything to go by. If urgent and effective measures are not taken to curb the rising atmospheric temperatures then the temperatures will be even higher than they are today. This of course translates to more adverse effects of global warming and climate change than have witnessed. The heat will be more blistering and future of human beings staying on planet earth looks bleak and uncertain under the scorching sun, devastating storms and floods.

Causes of global warming and climate change in the Pacific Islands

Notably, the most affected species of living things, that is human beings, is the major culprits to blame. Many scientists have reached a consensus that the continued gradual yet steady rise in atmospheric temperatures over the past centuries has been caused by human beings. One major causes of global warming is human activities especially in relation to production and emission of greenhouse gases. Vehicles, industries and farming activities release the various greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone among others. These gases are also released from household especially those using fossil fuels such as coal or kerosene and firewood. However, it has to be noted that most of these activities occur in developed and industrialized nations such as China and United States. But the interconnectivity of the world’s ecosystem means that the most vulnerable parts of the world such as the Pacific Islands feel the effects of these activities even more.

Over the years, the amount of these gases, soot and particulates in the atmosphere has increased tremendously causing an enhanced greenhouse effect. Ideally, these gases plus others including water vapor absorb the sunrays that radiates off the earth’s surface and re-radiate them back to the earth’ surface at an equilibrium which maintains the atmospheric temperature at 33° C. However, elevated levels of these gases, which form a layer in the atmosphere, lead high amounts of re-radiated sunrays. This is what enhances the greenhouse effect. Moreover, the gases form corrosive compounds which deplete the protective ozone layer allowing high energy sunrays into the earth’s surface. This also leads to higher than normal temperature in the atmosphere. This is also compounded by the layer which they form in the atmosphere which blocks these harmful rays from being reflected back. Even though some natural activities such as volcanic eruptions have been implicated, however their effects are considerably insignificant.

Effects of global warming and climate change in the Pacific Islands

The net effects of increasing atmospheric temperatures include extreme weather conditions, food insecurity and diseases. These are currently experienced in the Pacific Islands today. Even though many lack the scientific knowledge to explain the historical, record breaking and never seen before floods, droughts, typhoons, cyclones and heat waves, they know that there is something wrong with Mother Nature (Vecchi & Soden, 2007). A report written by Matt Siegel published on March 4, 2013 in The New York Times quotes Australia’s Climate Commission as stating that “climate change was a major driving force behind a string of extreme weather events that alternately scorched and soaked large sections of Australia in recent months.” Scorching weather led to destruction of property as seen when hundreds of sheep were burnt and thousands of people rendered homeless both by the floods and the wildfires (Siegel n.pgn.). The Roviana Lagoon in Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea was inundated by floods which claimed lives, destroyed properties worth millions of dollars while leaving many especially children vulnerable to attack by disease as flooding affects fresh water availability. The flood waters and pools provide breeding grounds for many pathogens which cause various diseases such as cholera. The floods left 63,000 people homeless in both countries (Wynn, 2014).

The floods sweep agricultural land and farm produce while affecting the fisheries and tourism industry which are the backbone of the economies in these islands. Tourism is a major income generator for the Pacific Islands. However, with the destruction of the marine ecosystems due to extremely high temperatures and flooding, Pacific Islands are increasingly losing their lucrative tourism industry and therefore foreign exchange. That icebergs and ice on top of mountains are slowly melting leading to rising sea level is a fact that many people have come to live with. However, few people apart from the scientists have attributed it to global warming. Some see it as a normal occurrence while others have noticed but have not given it a serious consideration. The few centimeter rise in sea level being recorded by scientists will double with increasing rate of melting of ice and in the next half a century, significant portions of our islands shall have submerged under the sea.

These effects of global warming and climate change not only threaten other living things; it threatens the future of the Pacific Islanders. The loss is not confined to the Pacific Islanders alone; many people from around the land rely on the islands not only for recreation but also for economic activities. The interlinking of world’s economies due to globalization means that a problem in one economy has ripple effects which can reverberate all across the globe. Therefore, it is only logical that human beings find lasting solutions to this problem. However, since most of the causes of climate change and global warming do not arise from within the islands, it is imperative that a collaborative approach is used. This will ensure that broad and narrow based solutions are found for tackling the problem of climate change within and outside the Pacific Islands. Such an approach must also allow for incorporation of scientific knowledge in tackling climate change. One such approach is adaptation planning which calls for collaboration between countries within the islands and beyond through scientific study.

Adaptation Planning and Mitigation of Climate Change in the Pacific Islands

Adaptation planning is based on carrying out scientific studies to analyze the causes of climate change and finding lasting solutions to tackle them based on global collaboration and partnership. This will also enable the islands to receive the much needed support from developed countries from around the world which not only have the financial power to finance the researches and implementation programs but are also the major contributors to global warming and climate change. Adaptation planning also forms a legal platform upon which key environmental conservation policies can be formulated and implemented across the partner countries. This will provide the islands to implement key mitigation measures such as:

  1. Carbon Capture and Storage

Over the years as the world’s populations increased exponentially, the production of greenhouse gases especially carbon dioxide has increased significantly as humans adapt more and more technologies for food production, transport, industries and building and constructions among many other sectors. The increase in population not only increases the demand for essential commodities and services, it also increases the pressure on the environment leading to deforestation. All these lead to environmental degradation and pollution. This is because the reservoirs of carbon dioxide, forests, are being cleared to create space for human activities which in effect increase the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to dangerous levels. Like all greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide contribute to global warming by depleting the ozone layer and trapping the dangerous sunrays within the earth’s atmosphere. The resulting global warming has serious health and environmental implications to both human and nonhuman species.

It is these health and environmental implications that have been of great concern to many individuals and organizations including scientists, policymakers and governments. These concerns culminated into the holding of the First International Conference on Carbon Dioxide removal from the atmosphere in 1992 in Amsterdam. The conference brought together over 250 stakeholders including scientists and engineers. One of the mitigation measures considered during the conference was technology for capturing and storing carbon dioxide as a way of reducing its amounts in the atmosphere and ultimately reducing environmental pollution (Coelho n.pag.). Carbon capture and storage technique recognizes and appreciates the fact that industrialization which significantly contributes to high amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases is an indispensable part of civilization. The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will remain significantly high even if safe and environmentally friendly technologies are adopted.

Carbon capture and storage is based on the concept that the earth and seas can act as large reservoirs in which high amounts of carbon dioxide can be safely stored. Carbon dioxide is captured from the atmosphere and channeled to the below ground or under sea reservoirs where they are locked leaving a safer atmosphere (Coelho n.pag.). This technology can significantly reduce amounts of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, thereby mitigating the global warming phenomenon. The captured carbon can be stored in depleted gas reservoirs, coal seams and other geologic sinks such as depleted crude oil reservoirs. As Howard Herzog (2001) notes, the earth and the oceans have the capability of storing large volumes of carbon dioxide (Herzog 151A). Carbon capturing and storage in the earth and oceans offers an alternative to the various mitigation measures which have been tried with relatively little success when it comes to reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. While reforestation and afforestation are programs which are currently being undertaken with the aim of creating a natural reservoir for capturing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, success has been minimal because of the difficulty in implementation. Moreover, the use of safe technologies and non-fossil fuels is in its infant stages and the technologies have not been effectively developed and implemented. Comparatively, the capacity of these two options when it comes to capturing or reducing emission of carbon dioxide is relatively small compared to underground and below sea storage of carbon dioxide.

  1. Hydrogen economy and clean energy use

Hydrogen economy can be defined as the use of hydrogen as a source of energy both at home, in industries and even the transport sector. This is based on the fact that hydrogen is an energy carrier hence this carried energy can be harnessed to produce energy. Even though not a free element, hydrogen can be produced from other molecules where it is a constituent. Such molecules include water where through electrolysis; it is possible to produce hydrogen. Another method of producing hydrogen is through fossil fuel reforming. By reacting fossil fuels at high temperatures with steam, it is possible to produce hydrogen and comparably low levels of carbon dioxide. The hydrogen produced can then be used in fuel cell to produce energy to run our industries, transport system and even homes. Moreover, by using bacteria it is possible to produce hydrogen via the fermentation process. Notably, the by-product of such processes is mainly or exclusively water which is safe and does not interfere with the integrity of our environment. Moreover, the water can be recycled and reused in electrolysis to produce more hydrogen (Turner 957).

The fact that hydrogen use as a source of fuel in various countries including the United States of America is a clear pointer that hydrogen economy is gaining prominence. In 2004, the global production of hydrogen stood at 50 million metric tones (Evers 211). The number is expected to go up in the next fifty years where projections indicate nearly all the world’s economies shall have adopted hydrogen economy. One reason that has endeared hydrogen energy to many is the fact that it is a clean energy. The world is currently grappling with the effects of green house gases and environmental pollution in general. Thus, hydrogen provides a clean energy unlike the hydrocarbons which give out green house gases including carbon dioxide and also spills. Moreover, hydrogen economy gives countries economic independence which is rarely accorded to them in a hydrocarbon economy. Many countries currently rely on the Middle East and other oil producing countries in order for their economy to run. Since hydrogen fuel can be produced anywhere as long as there is the necessary infrastructure, such economies will gain economic independence. This also reduces the cost of production by cutting the distribution cost (National Research Council 141).

Conclusion

While the Pacific Ocean Islands are on the brink of oblivion because of climate change, they are victims of a worldwide surge towards industrialization and increased world population and human activities. Climate change within the islands has been so devastating because of their vulnerability as a result of their location within the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, tackling climate change in the Pacific Ocean Islands requires a broad based and concerted efforts approach. Adaptation planning provides an important platform for collaboration and implementation of scientific solutions to tackle climate change and its effects in the PACIFIC Ocean islands.

 

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