The current crisis facing Vanuatu in the wake of category 5 Cyclone Pam is highlighting the vulnerability of small island developing states (SIDS) at a critical time. With the Paris climate talks scheduled for later this year (Dec. 2015), disasters such as this one highlight the need for global action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and provide loss and damage support to poor counties. Reuters reports that John Connor, chief executive of The Climate Institute, noted, “certainly, like Typhoon Haiyan dramatized the very real issue of the cost of climate change just before the Warsaw meeting (in 2013), this will ratchet up the anxiety and interest from the SIDS in the (Paris) negotiations.” The alliance of small island developing states (AOSIS) is taking this unfortunate event as opportunity to draw the attention of the international community to the increasing impacts of climate change on SIDS and the need for financial support in preparing for and recovering from disasters.
Although little is known about the causes of cyclones and their trends, scientists agree that rising global temperatures mean there is more energy to fuel storms, and that rising sea levels mean that storm surges can cause more damage when they hit land. Many scientists have even spoken out on the link between Pam and climate change. The Australian Climate Council released a briefing statement boldly declaring that “damage from Cyclone Pam was exacerbated by climate change.” One of their main findings is that “climate change is here with us today, raising the level of the ocean and increasing the devastation caused by tropical cyclones.”
Pledges of monetary support for Vanuatu and other pacific islands affected by Pam are also bringing attention to the need for a globally funded insurance pool to aid in the recovery from such disasters. Ahmed Sareer, the Maldives’ ambassador to the United Nations told ClimateWire, “we urgently need to modernize our preparedness and part of that means looking at how loss and damage plays a role in addressing climate impacts.”
It is not yet clear if loss and damage will be mentioned in the text being prepared for the Paris agreement. Large developing countries support the protection of smaller, vulnerable counties with loss and damage. Wealthy nations, on the other hand, prefer to leave out loss and damage as it could make them liable for the costs of climate change. E&E News reports that Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh said, “Cyclone Pam highlights the fact that loss and damage is real and has to be dealt with and cannot be brushed under the table any longer. The reality on the ground is showing us that it’s not about the future; it’s about the now.”
This sentiment was reflected by Deborah Barker-Manase, deputy permanent representative of the Marshall Islands to the United Nations. She noted the importance of acting now in an email to ClimateWire, stating, “we don’t have time for finger pointing, or handing out blame. What is critical is that Paris negotiations send a powerful and transformative signal on positive global action — and also provide all of us with some basic tools to better address future linkages between climate change and security. Everyone needs a real kick in the pants on jump-starting adaptation. That is a priority. But the scale of devastation in Vanuatu now, let alone future risks, makes clear we have to engage with — and understand — the full range of future risks. It is very hard to put a dollar sign on what is really at stake, so simplistic or reactionary answers won’t work. We need clear hooks to address security risks going forward, but most importantly, the most vulnerable and the whole world needs a platform for strong action starting now and increasing over time.”
Exactly what will happen later this year in Paris is still unclear, but the recent devastating effects of Cyclone Pam are serving as a reminder of the vulnerability of SIDS and renewing the push for clear mention of loss and damage in the climate agreement.
(Image: European Commission DG ECHO on Flickr). Photo credit: UNICEF Pacific – retrieved from