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Majuro conference looks for climate change solutions

By Giff Johnson MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Oct. 22, 2009) - Adapting to climate change impacts is a "key priority" for the survival of Pacific islands endangered by rising sea levels, the head of the region’s environment program told the opening of a climate change workshop here on Monday.

"Adaption will remain our key priority for decades to come, particularly as we learn more about specific impacts," said David Sheppard, the director of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program, who is based in Samoa. "We need better science and observation in the region, and this must be applied to the development of useful practical strategies."

Conference attendees from around the Pacific were urged by Marshall Islands government Chief Secretary Casten Nemra to "speak with one voice, to be the global champion of climate change."

Island officials will be focused on addressing strategy for the global climate change meeting to be held in December in Copenhagen. "Bold actions are needed now and the key is adaptation," Nemra said. Dr. Pactrick Nunn, a climate change researcher at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, said scientists project the ocean will rise more than one meter, or three feet, during this century.

Nemra described an ocean wave surge that coincided with a high tide, inundating many islands with sea water last December, as the type of climate incident that the islands expect to see more of. "Seven hundred people were displaced, many houses were destroyed, US$1 million in infrastructure was damaged and crops were damaged from salt water intrusion," he said.

It was clear from the start of this Pacific Climate Change Roundtable attended by 14 nations and territories that access to funding and resources for mitigation and adaptation is a major issue for islands that are in danger of being wiped out by sea level rise.

"There are few mitigating options to protect our fragile environment," said Majuro Councilwoman Deborah Shoniber at the Roundtable opening.

"Seawalls, and other engineered structures, could provide decades of protection. We need planning and financing that is beyond the economic capability of our small nation to provide."

Sheppard said significant funding is now becoming available from developed nations but is problematic for small islands because of the strings attached.

"There are now many funding initiatives, such as Japan’s ‘Cool Earth,’ Australia’s International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative, the UN’s Global Environment Fund and many others," said Sheppard. "These initiatives are welcome but they can exert enormous stress on Pacific island countries -- in terms of access, reporting and implementation."

While welcoming the increased involvement and interest by developed nations on the issue, Sheppard said it underlined the need for "effective coordination to ensure targeted outcomes for Pacific island countries in relation to climate change."

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