Lamenting Kyoto, Samoa tackles climate

By Cherelle Jackson

If Samoa had the global environmental impact of say the United States of America then there's hope yet for the future of small islands that face imminent extinction due to the impacts of climate change.

For a small island nation, Samoa was one of the first signatories to the Kyoto Protocol which served only as reminder of the fragile state the Pacific islands are in.

Kyoto was a milestone in itself; originally negotiated in 1997 the Protocol officially entered into force on February 16 2005 instigated by members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The objective of the Kyoto Protocol according to UNFCCC is to achieve "stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. "

Samoa signed Kyoto on the 16th of March 1998, and was accepted for ratification on the 27th of November 2000.

Currently 175 states have ratified the Protocol which includes Samoa, however only 35 have agreed to cap emissions.

The only existing data on gas emissions on Samoa is provided in the first national communication to the UNFCCC report in 1999.

According to the report, Samoas energy emissions were recorded at 0.43, while total population emissions were at 0.17 and 2.53 per person.

Samoa's per person emissions were higher then that of Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands and Nauru in the same year.

Since Samoa's agreement to ratify Kyoto, the local Climate Change division has been visible in creating awareness on the impacts of the global environmental challenge.

As our neighbours Tokelau and Tuvalu know all too well, Climate Change is a real issue, affecting real people and the possible existence of a nation, albeit a small one at that.

In a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Samoa is identified as a high risk area concerning the impacts of Climate Change.

"Because of their [islands] strong dependence on economic sectors that are highly sensitive to climate change effects, small island states clearly are a vulnerable group of countries."

However a report by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme states: "It must be emphasized, however, that the sensitivity of small islands to the projected effects of climate change cannot be attributed to any single factor such as size, elevation, remoteness, or to a select group of factors. Rather, the level of vulnerability of these islands is determined by the increasing and collective result of these and related biophysical attributes combined with the islands' economic and socio cultural characters. "

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that climate change directly or indirectly contributes to about 77 000 deaths annually in Asia and the Pacific.

A figure for the Pacific itself could not be obtained however WHO Representative to Samoa, Dr. Kevin Palmer told Newsline the figures are a cause for concern.

" The total number of deaths in the region is significant and the impacts are pretty specific, " Dr. Palmer said.

According to the WHO Representative major changes related to climate change such as the gradual disappearance of atolls, do make a contribution to health problems.

" the mosquito population is on the increase and with that the prevalence of malaria, " he said.

Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, warned recently: "We have now reached a critical stage in which global warming has already seriously impacted lives and health, and this problem will pose an even greater threat to mankind in coming decades if we fail to act now."

Some regions might be at risk of reduced rainfall, causing a shortage of fresh water and introducing the danger of waterborne diseases.

Locally, Principal Climate Change Officer for Samoa, Ms. Anne Rasmussen said Samoa is very much aware of the link between Climate Change and health.

"Currently we are implementing an Adaptation Plan to prevent health problems as a result of climate change," Ms. Rasmussen said.

The National Adaptation Programme of Action for Samoa [NAPA] published in 1995 identifies major vulnerabilities for Samoa.

Areas such as Agriculture and Food Security will be affected due to the instability of food production levels to meet higher demands from climate change induced disasters.

NAPA also identifies water as a vulnerable area due to droughts as well as biological diversity, health, forestry, coastal infrastructure and environment, tourism, urban settlement and village communities.

Mr Espen Ronnenberg, Climate Change Advisor for SPREP told Newsline that Climate Change will have a huge impact on various industries in the Samoa.

He said: "Local industries need to adapt to the diverse effects of Climate Change, agriculture, fisheries and even tourism will feel the impacts due to sea-level rise, droughts, and flooding."

According to Ronenberg Samoa is " severely constricted" by the fact that most of the infrastructure is located on coastal plain.

" In this sense Climate Change will have a huge impact on the economy, " he said.

If the events of this years environment week speak for anything, its that Samoa is not taking the impacts of Climate Change lightly, and that the national pledge to Kyoto back in 1998 is not superficial.

The fact that the central business district stopped for two hours for a national drill on tsunami preparation speaks volumes for this commitment.

Samoa was once described by New Zealand Foreign Minister Hon. Winston Peters as the "pinup star of the Pacific", in development but in terms of Kyoto and Climate Change, we may as well be that.

- Newsline Samoa

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