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Funding tops climate change agenda for Pacific ministers

Suva- Climate change issues are high on the agenda at this week's Forum Economic Ministers Meeting (FEMM) where finance leaders are shaping a new climate fund to strengthen current structures of vulnerable nations impacted by global warming.

The Forum Economic Ministers from Fiji, PNG, Palau, FSM, RMI, Australia, New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Cook Islands,Nauru, Kiribati,, New Caledonia,Samoa. photo by Lisa Williams-Lahari

David Adeang, Nauru Minister for Finance chair of the 2019 FEMM told the opening session Wednesday climate change brings challenges to the Pacific and could bring huge economic costs for the Pacific people in the future.

“Our ability to build explicit buffers to shocks and stressors to withstand the impacts of climate change and disasters is our constant challenge, exacerbated even more for those economies which face persistent fiscal and current account deficits,” Adeang said.

He said investment in public infrastructure will spur growth to the Pacific economies but “given that climate change and disasters remain the greatest threat to our economies, it is crucial that such infrastructure investment prioritize resilience, including at the community level.”

The Asian Development Bank(ADB) Pacific Economic Report 2018 notes the cost of infrastructure for the Pacific is staggering given its remoteness and dispersion.

The report said the 14 Pacific developing member countries of the ADB are in the global top 15 when it comes to isolation from global trade partners. The ranking is based on a gross domestic product (GDP)-weighted measure of distance from all potential trade partners, adjusting for each partner’s market size.

In Palau, President Tommy Remengesau Jr. said there is already a need to respond to potential future costs from climate change.

This week, ministers are shaping the details to a proposed Pacific Resilience Facility (PRF).

The facility seeks to provide sustainable funding for preparedness and retrofit projects across the Pacific.

While most climate change funding is geared towards post-disaster relief and recovery, the PRF will focus on investments for preparedness.

The key objective of the PRF is to minimize future loss of lives, displacement of people and extensive economic loss.

Climate change cost

In February 2018, Cyclone Gita struck Tonga’s Tongatapu and neighboring ‘Eua islands with damage to homes, government buildings, and infrastructure for basic services, including water supply, sanitation, and waste management, electricity, and communications. The damage was estimated at $USD 164 million, equivalent to about 38% of Tonga’s annual gross domestic product.

With disasters such as this, the new climate fund should be able to finance new investments in infrastructure, buildings, and ports.

Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor said small island nations and their people will no longer be forced to move due to climate change if there is a resilient infrastructure.

Sea level rise in the Pacific nation of Kiribati could wipe out the nation and force mass evacuations to neighboring and developed nations-- but Dame Meg told a media dialogue running parallel to the FEMM 2019 that the narrative around a climate-forced exodus from Kiribati has changed.

“There’s an acknowledgment the existential threat is there, but (they’re saying) we're not packing up and leaving, This is home, this is the islands that we have stewardship over, we will make a life here,” she said.

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