Climate Change Impacts on Children in the Pacific: Kiribati and Vanuatu
This paper explores the impacts that climate change will likely have on children in the Pacific, with particular focus on Kiribati and Vanuatu. It provides insights into how different actors in those two countries are currently considering children in their policies and programmes. Included is an outline of the possible directions for UNICEF in its pursuit of a children-sensitive response to the multiple challenges that changing climate will bring. The paper builds on a growing body of climate change-related studies of the Pacific Islands situation. It is the first paper to publically present climate change modelling together with a review of Pacific climate change adaptation plans to support the call for more child-focused climate change actions. The paper also highlights the scarcity of child-specific climate change studies from the Pacific.
The results of the modelling created for this study indicate that both case study countries are projected to experience a slightly lower rise in their maximum temperature compared with the projected global average (of 2.7°C). According to the modelling, maximum temperatures are projected to increase in Kiribati by 2.1°C and in Vanuatu by 1.9°C by 2050, relative to the 1961–1990 average. In comparison, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has projected average temperatures of up to 2.48°C (for the North Pacific) and 1.79°C (for the South Pacific) by 2069 (Mimura et al., 2007).1 Unlike temperature, which has a reasonably uniform result across all models, the climate change projections for rainfall in the case study countries present a broad range of future scenarios, ranging from -2 per cent to an increase of 75 per cent by 2050 (the median of the models shows a 2 per cent increase for Lamap, Vanuatu and a 26 per cent increase in Tarawa, Kiribati).
The range of risks unfolding in both countries include increased health issues, decreased potable water availability, food security The IPCC projections for the Pacific were from seven general circulation models, whereas this study used an ensemble of 21. challenges, cyclone risks (in Vanuatu) and considerable coastal erosion. The climate change-related issues confronting the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), like Kiribati, are dominated by the projections of sea level rise because of the expected life-changing impacts. Even low-end projections will require considerable roll-out of infrastructure solutions (such as sea walls and water storage facilities) as well as non-engineering-based responses (psychosocial support). The high-end sea level rise projections challenge the very existence of Kiribati. Under a best-case scenario, it is more than likely that both Kiribati and Vanuatu will need to relocate some communities to less exposed areas, including international relocation.
Without drastic global cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, it is likely that sea level rise will have direct (such as loss of land) and indirect (psychological issues associated with forced relocation) consequences for Kiribati due to the nation’s low-lying nature. Although sea level rise does not threaten to completely submerge Vanuatu (as it does in Kiribati), it still presents multiple challenges. These include forced relocations of low-lying communities and increasing risks from storm surge (when combined with cyclones).
Currently, children have a limited role in adaptation actions in both countries, although there has been a recognizable shift in Kiribati policies towards including children in some adaptation discussions (inclusion in the upcoming relocation discussions, for instance). In Kiribati, many children are helping to plant mangroves to help protect the coastline from increased wave action. In Vanuatu, children have been engaged in river clean-up projects, which have been used also as an opportunity to increase environmental awareness and education. Both countries have active climate change youth groups engaged in international awareness-raising activities.
Kiribati and Vanuatu, like many SIDS in the Pacific, have had an expedited need to embrace adaptation. The degree of impact from climate change they experience will be determined by the rest of the international community’s ability and willingness to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The SIDS in the Pacific are geographically and economically vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which are likely to emerge sooner rather than later. Without the luxury of time, rapid adaptation is a necessity, which in turn increases the likelihood of unanticipated consequences arising from climate change responses.
Eighteen months has passed since the last UNICEF study of climate change impacts on children in the Pacific (Urbano and Maclellan, 2010), and it seems evident that little progress has emerged in relation to the consideration of children in climate change studies and policies. Greater emphasis and advocacy must be given to this situation.
Considerable opportunities exist for child-led and child-focused responses to the effects of climate change. The following table presents a summary of possibilities that emerged through the research for this study.