The full measure of the impact of climate change in the Pacific is clearly evident in an International Monetary Fund report on Tuvalu.

The IMF report comes in the same week that New Zealand has ratified the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, a move which Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett said demonstrated our commitment to global action on climate change.

The IMF report says that climate change is the biggest single economic issue facing Tuvalu, one of the tiniest countries in the world. It has six atolls and three islands for its population of 10,000 people. All up its land area amounts to about 26 square kilometres.

Tuvalu is considered to be one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change and is currently hosting a conference of four other small islands states, the Coalition of Atoll Nations on Climate Change.

New Zealand officials are participating in the conference.

But this week Oxfam has also produced a report questioning New Zealand’s commitment to climate change in the Pacific.

The IMF report highlights how what was not so long ago an issue largely confined to some Pacific Island leaders and environmentalists is now entering the world political agenda.

The IMF says among the smallest and most remote countries on earth and it is also among the most vulnerable countries to rising sea levels with an average height of less than 3 meters above sea level.

Sea water flooding of low-lying areas occurs frequently and is expected to become more frequent and extensive over time, the report says.

“The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change projects that sea levels will rise in this century and, in this context Tuvalu is classified as a fragile state,” it says.

Advertisment

Despite this, New Zealand gives Tuvalu  $15 million in direct assistance every year and other and that includes everything from fisheries management to scholarships..

This contrasts with $US36 million Tuvalu has recently been allocated by the United Nations Green Climate Fund.

New Zealand’s assistance to Tuvalu focuses on renewable energy rather than climate change directly but enabling the country to be less reliant on oil imports will have important, consequential budgetary effects which will assist its ability to undertake projects to mitigate the effect of rising sea levels.

However, Oxfam argues that New Zealand’s aid should be better balanced between renewable energy and climate change mitigation.

In its report Oxfam says New Zealand’s climate finance is drawn exclusively from their existing Overseas Development Assistance budget, prompting criticism that it does not constitute support beyond existing aid commitments.

“ Multiple interviewees for this report urged a rebalancing of New Zealand’s climate finance portfolio and greater investment in resilience-building programs

For Tuvalu, the need will be large.

The IMF report estimates the country will need to set aside two per cent of its GDP  (approximately $NZ1,200,000)  annually to build the country’s adaptive capacity by climate-proofing critical infrastructure, adopting better early-warning systems for all hazards, and policy planning.

 

The authorities have established a new “Climate Change and Disaster Policy Unit” within the Office of the Prime Minister to integrate climate change resilience into national policies, including contingency planning, early warning systems and communication protocols.

It is against this background that the New Zealand initiative last year on the Security Council to have a meeting with Small Island Developing States needs to be seen.

It’s early days yet, but the question of climate change has the potential to redefine Pacific politics and with it New Zealand’s relationship with the region.