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Climate Change Poses Alarming Threat to Food Security in Pacific Islands

Pacific leaders gather at FAO before participating in the UN Climate Conference COP23. in Bonn. Credit: FAO

ROME, Nov 12 2017 (IPS) - A high-level meeting of political leaders -– hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) -– sounded an ominous warning: that climate change poses an “alarming threat to food systems and food security in the Pacific islands.”

And for many island nations, the impact of climate change also represents the “gravest of threats to their survival and viability”, including, for some, through the loss of territory due to sea-level rise—and the potential danger of being wiped off the face of the earth.

Chaired by FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, the meeting of leaders from nine small island developing states (SIDS) and representatives of regional development bodies, plus New Zealand and Australia, focused on “Improving food security and nutrition, building resilient livelihoods and promoting partnerships for sustainable development in the Pacific Islands.”

The nine participating countries included Kiribati, Vanuatu, Nauru, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Samoa, Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea and French Polynesia, whose inhabitants face a potentially severe food crisis triggered mostly by climate change.

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

In his opening remarks on Saturday, Graziano da Silva shared the Pacific leaders’ concerns about the negative impact of climate change on food security and nutrition and its role in exacerbating the burden of malnutrition as well as the alarming overweight and obesity levels.

“You are suffering from things that you didn’t cause, from things you are not responsible for – the impact of climate change,” the FAO Director-General said.

“This is what FAO offers – support so that you can face climate change; scale up growing local products as we see you import more and more food. Obesity is a big problem. It is an epidemic that we need to address.”

“Together with partners such as WHO, we promote the uptake of healthy, fresh food – fruits, vegetable and fish instead of processed food. We promote local products – bread fruit, for which we have a pilot programme in the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Nauru, and which we want to scale up and multiply,” he added

In a joint statement, following the meeting Saturday, the Pacific leaders called upon all countries to “exceed previous commitments and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C as above pre-industrial levels, to reduce the adverse impacts on food security and nutrition, coastal habitats and the livelihoods of those depending on oceans.”

The 1.5 degrees limit will allow “for a greater change at maintaining resilient livelihoods and promote partnerships for sustainable development in the Pacific Islands,” the statement read.

Also participating in the meeting were officials from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Director-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency and Chief executive officer of the Pan Pacific Power Association.

The joint statement was also a “call to action” to the UN climate change Conference of Parties (COP 23), currently underway, in Bonn, where the Pacific leaders will present their case.

The meeting, which concludes November 17, will be presided over by the government of Fiji, a small island developing state in the Pacific.

The leaders also raised concerns about the negative impacts of malnutrition evidenced by the growing incidence of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), which accounts for 75 percent of adult deaths in the Pacific, and called for “more proactive and integrated actions to promote policies to tackle food insecurity challenges, especially on issues related to obesity, stunting, wasting and NCDs.”

They acknowledged the importance of the FAO and partners’ Global Action Programme on Food Security and Nutrition in SIDS, which recommends action at global, regional, national and local level to accelerate food security and nutrition, calling for its endorsement and immediate implementation.

With Pacific island states highly dependent on their oceans for their livelihoods and food security, leaders reiterated their anxiety about ecosystem degradation, and called upon the international community to assist in maximizing the sustainable utilization of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors for the benefit of small island developing states.

According to FAO, the Pacific islands are among the most environmentally vulnerable nations in the world. Drought, extreme high tides, violent winds, and storm surges pose major risks to small island nations, and their efforts to achieve sustainable development.

With “Oceans Day” events taking place at COP23 on Saturday, Graziano da Silva highlighted the importance of the FAO Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), described as “today’s main tool in the hands of the international community to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing”.

Urging all Pacific Island states to adhere to the agreement, he said: “You are countries with more water and natural resources to preserve than any other countries. This is why the Port State Measures Agreement is important.”

He said FAO is “committed to support you to implement and monitor your PSMA process. We can provide assistance for your national legislations, training and funding to put the agreement in place. We will not be able to safeguard our ocean environment if we don’t combat illegal fishing,” he declared.

In the joint statement, the leaders also reiterated their anxiety about ecosystem degradation and other challenges encapsulated in the Sustainable Development Goal 14 and called upon the international community to assist in maximizing the sustainable utilization of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors for the benefit of the small island developing states.

They further recalled the endorsement of the Global Action Programme on Food Security and Nutrition in SIDS and called for immediate implementation.

Additionally the leaders also called upon the international community to ensure partnerships are genuine and enduring South-South and triangular cooperation are encouraged and facilitated, and synergies to maximize the use of financial resources for the Pacific Islands are pursued and built

The political leaders at the high level meeting included: Taneti Maamau, President, Republic of Kiribati, Baron Waqa, President, Republic of Nauru, Hilda Heine, President, Republic of Marshall Islands, Yosiwo P. George, Vice President, Federated States of Micronesia, Henry Puna, Prime Minister, Cook Islands, Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas, Prime Minister, Republic of Vanuatu, Fiame Naomi Mataafa, Deputy Prime Minister, Samoa, Joshua Kalinoe, Special Envoy of the Prime Minister, Papua New Guinea, James Shaw, Minister for Climate Change, New Zealand, Aupito William Sio, Minister for Pacific Peoples, New Zealand and Édouard Fritch, President, French Polynesia.

Other participants included: Colin Tukuitonga, Director-General, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Dame Meg Taylor, Secretary-General, Pacific Islands Forum, James Movick, Director-General, Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency and Andrew Daka, Chief executive officer, Pan Pacific Power Association.

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