Climate change threats to food and water security on Pacific atolls

Global environmental change Climate change Climate modelling Food security Water security Pacific Area

The small, low-lying islands of the South Pacific are among the countries that are most threatened by climate change. The larger islands in Melanesia are in a better position to adapt to climate change than the smaller atolls in Polynesia and Micronesia. The Boe Declaration on Regional Security, signed at the Pacific Islands Forum in 2018, updates an earlier regional security statement and declares that ‘climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific’. That sentiment was reiterated at the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum in the Kainaki II Statement where ‘Leaders noted that escalating climate change impacts, coupled with the intensification of geostrategic competition, is exacerbating the region’s vulnerabilities.’ Sea-level rise is the greatest climate-related threat to the region and is expected to weaken water security to a greater extent than food security.

Key points:

  • Small Pacific Island Countries, many of which are only two to five metres above sea level at their highest point, are threatened by rising sea levels that are likely to weaken food and water security.
  • As most of the region is already highly dependent on imported food, and agriculture plays a relatively small role in the formal economy, especially on atolls, climate change will have a larger effect on regional water security.
  • Most of the region’s built infrastructure is located close to the coast and faces greater flood risk than in the past.
  • The most vulnerable Pacific Island Countries, such as Tuvalu, are exploring options to adapt to climate change. Those options can only be feasible with external assistance, which could heighten geopolitical competition in the region.
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