Thursday, January 31, 2008

Aloha, Sea level rise demonstration in Hawaii

This week an important conference is being held on the island of Hawaii, which is a state within the United States. This follows high level talks initiated by the US government following urges by the UN Secretary General for countries to take concrete action on climate change. Instead, according to news reports, the meeting is closed to Hawaiians.

To make a point, local environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter have been engaged in numerous events to increase awareness and foster local action. I am sharing those here as there are many ideas that we could use to bring about more awareness of sea level rise.

One event included drawing a chalk line on sidewalks to show where one metre sea level rise will get to, eventually. The chalk line emerges from a national project aimed at evaluating the vulnerability of the island to sea level rise. "The point of the Blue Line Project is that we are vulnerable, our community is vulnerable," said Fletcher, a professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Hawai'i. "And with a vulnerable community, knowing that we've been warned, and knowing that we have a lot of time between now and then, what can we do to make ourselves more resilient? Let's begin to incorporate information like this map ... into our planning for the future." (source:

Indeed the incorporation of areas of vulnerability is critical in planning for long-term adaptation. Whilst the public may not be convinced that sea level will eventually impact on their property, it is imperative that we find ways and means to increase public and private sector awareness of the issues. All too often we see enthusiastic hotel developers adamant in locating their development on the beach, rather than respecting a certain distance from the high-water mark.

The politicians in the closed room may be still talking about climate change but the people of Hawaii, knowing where their priorities lie, are taking the necessary action to preserve their island life.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Unfinished Business – The urgency of climate change

For the people of the Maldives, the reality of sea level rise, was evoked at the Rio Summit on the Environment in 1992, when their President addressed the large gathering of heads of states, ministers and diplomats. They agreed to setup the first global mechanism to address the issue of climate change, which scientists have been discussing for over thirty years before. The first IPCC report which came out in 1990 reflected the science of the day – that global air temperatures had increased by 0.3 to 0.6 oC over the last 100 years, and proposed that we stabilize our emissions. The report noted significant uncertainties, but the message was clear then as it is today.

Last night the President of the United States acknowledged climate change and declared measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but Jerome Ringo, President of the Apollo Alliance reckons that "Members of Congress from both parties have proposed legislation that goes farther than what the president put on the table. President Bush could be leading this march, but instead, he is falling to the back of the line." Listen to Jerome Ringo on Youtube:

Lest we forget, the 1992 Rio Summit agreed on an important principle – the Precautionary Principle. Principle 15 of the Rio declaration states that "in order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capability. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation".

In simple terms – prevention or precaution is better than cure.

Are we in a situation of threat beyond irreversible damage – I should think yes. Many coastlines and coastal areas have been lost as a result of increases in sea level. In some areas direct human influences have made erosion worse, but in remote and untouched areas accelerated erosion persists.

Since the Rio Conference, we have been post-poning any cost-effective action. Our lack of progress on climate change issues has caused the private sector to scale back efforts to (i) make renewable energy more profitable, (ii) establish the electric car as reliable technology and (iii) engage in on-the-ground adaptation. Instead, we have found multiple reasons to increase our dependency on fossil fuel.

It is unnecessary that we should wait till we have 100% proof to take action. After 4 successive IPCC reports authored by more than 1,000 scientists and reviewed by governments, the Fourth Assessment Report concluded that indeed, with a very high level of confidence, human-driven climate change is happening. We cannot wait anymore; the Maldivians have been waiting for 15 years. Whilst we need to address emissions reduction we also need to address adaptation as the impacts of climate change is already evident in many places around the planet.

Countries, corporations and individuals are to take responsibility for their actions. The right of islanders to exist and enjoy their homeland should be preserved. The UN charter on human rights (article 3) gives all of us the right to live, in other words the action of one person should not impact adversely on the life of the other person. This is the unfinished business we have to address.