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Atoll nations are on the front line of climate change and require immediate action to combat the impact of land loss, beach erosion, loss of fisheries, and water shortages—a situation that threatens their development and stability, delegates heard at a conference that opened Tuesday.
The conference on Resilient Atoll Nations in Productive Oceans, organised by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), brings together high-level government officials from the four atoll nations—Kiribati, Maldives, the Marshall Islands, and Tuvalu—along with experts and development partners. This is the second adaptation dialogue under the Coalition of Low-lying Atoll Nations on Climate Change after a first event in Fiji in April 2019. For three days, they will be sharing knowledge on adapting to climate change, building resilience to disasters, and mobilizing finance.
The conference opened today with a High-Level Dialogue comprising a panel of Kiribati Ambassador to the United States and Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) Teburoro Tito; Marshall Islands Climate Change Envoy Tina Stege; CEO of the Office of the Prime Minister of Tuvalu Nese Conway; and ADB President Takehiko Nakao. The event was moderated by Maldives Minister of Environment ussain Rasheed Hassan.
“For the atoll nations, climate change is not a distant threat for a future generation to face but an immediate emergency, with tropical storms and rising seas taking their toll on human lives, livelihoods, and infrastructure,” Nakao said. “Dialogues such as this event are vital so that the affected atoll nations can voice their needs and share their experiences for staving off the threat of climate change posed to them.”
“This is a rare opportunity for those of us from the atoll nations in the Pacific to learn about how the Maldives is dealing with the challenges brought about by climate change,” said Stege. “It is also an opportunity to learn how ADB is supporting the Maldives and other island nations in addressing climate change and other development challenges.”
The world's 57 small island developing states have long been recognized as a special case for development. While they are all generally vulnerable to the effects of climate change, the four atoll nations are in a class of their own, characterised by thin landmass, low elevation (averaging about 2 meters), and lack of higher ground.
The international community has committed to limit warming to the Paris Agreement threshold of 2 degrees Celsius while aiming to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Despite this, projections show the rise in the sea's level by the end of this century will be 0.3 meters at best or as high as 2.5 meters. This poses unprecedented challenges to the low-lying atoll nations, which require strategic planning and significant action to adapt to this and other threats of climate change.
“Due to their low-lying topography, atoll nations are the most vulnerable countries and peoples on the planet to climate change given there is nowhere to retreat or run from the effects,” said Tito.
ADB is supporting the Pacific atoll nations on three levels. First, it is working with the atoll nations to increase the understanding of climate change and disaster risks. This will help raise awareness of adaptation options, whether elevating land, bolstering coastal protection, or redeploying infrastructure.
Second, armed with better data and information, ADB is planning to support resilient development pathways at the country level. This involves setting priorities and securing the required investments to address climate change and its impacts while ensuring effective risk management so that adaptation can be sustained in the long term.
Third, ADB is providing financial, technical, and capacity-building assistance to atoll nations in order to help them secure needed resources for an effective response to climate change and disaster risk while helping nations get better access to climate finance from a variety of sources. In Kiribati, for example, ADB will help provide the entire population of South Tarawa with climate-resilient water supply through a largely solar-powered seawater desalination plant financed by a US$13 million grant from ADB, a US$29 million grant from the Green Climate Fund administered by ADB, and grant co-financing from the World Bank.
Further, ADB is ready to support the atoll nations in achieving their Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement on climate change. ADB is also ready to support continued exchange between atoll nations, including a third Atoll Adaptation Dialogue at the next UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties in Santiago, Chile, on December 2019.
Under its Strategy 2030, ADB is expanding its support in tackling climate change, building climate and disaster resilience, and enhancing environmental sustainability across its developing member countries. ADB will ensure that 75% of the number of its committed operations will support climate change mitigation and adaptation by 2030, while climate finance from ADB's own resources will reach US$80 billion cumulatively from 2019 to 2030.
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