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Professor Morgan Wairiu … concerned that “business as usual” approach of some countries will have real-world effects on Pacific Island countries on the frontline of climate change. Image: Julie Cleaver/Video still

By Kendall Hutt and Julie Cleaver in Suva

The commitment of more than 190 nations to reducing global emissions has been called into question by a lead author of a special climate change report which seeks to highlight the impact of global warming above 1.5 degrees.

Professor Morgan Wairiu, an expert in food security and climate change with the University of the South Pacific’s Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PaCE-SD), says countries’ current commitment to reducing global emissions is alarming given the pressing need to reduce the impacts of climate change.

“The commitments that the countries have pledged is still inadequate. If you aggregate all those commitments in terms of emission reductions, we will still be above the two degrees cap that the Paris Agreement calls for.”

Despite this inadequacy, it is at least a starting point, he added in an interview with Asia Pacific Report.

Dr Wairiu, a Solomon Islander who is one of only two Pacific Islanders working on the report, said the “business as usual” approach of some countries, which saw the global average temperature on track for 2.7 degrees, would have real-world effects on Pacific Island countries that were on the frontline of climate change.

“For Pacific Island countries, because of our vulnerable ecosystems, we can manage up to 1.5 degrees, but beyond that we’re going to start losing our ecosystems and livelihood, our resources, and then the survival of our people.”


Commissioned by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) following the Paris Agreement in late December 2015, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 1.5 degrees report seeks to avoid such negative outcomes.

Dr Wairiu said this was because data collected by the 86 authors would allow countries to “take stock” of their current emissions targets.

When this report is released in 2018, it will help countries decide whether to increase or cut back emissions.

Non-binding commitments
Under the Paris Agreement, countries responsible for two-thirds of the world’s total emissions have made non-binding commitments to curb their greenhouse gas emissions.

By 2025 the US has pledged to reduce emissions from 26 percent to 28 percent relative to 2005 levels.

China, on the other hand, says it will lower its emissions by 60 to 65 percent, but only after reaching maximum carbon emissions by 2030.

The European Union, meanwhile, aims to cut back emissions by at least 40 percent relative to 1990 levels.

The issue is that these Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) put forward by nations prior to the Paris Agreement were up to each individual country to implement and enforce, Dr Wairiu said.

If these are not honoured or increased, scientists have warned the world will surpass the threshold in which global warming is reversible. The results of which will be catastrophic, observers believe.

Heat waves are predicted to last a third longer, rain storms would be about a third more intense, sea level will continue to rise, and tropical reefs would continue to degrade, a study by the European Geosciences Union revealed in 2016.

Loss of more atolls
The implications for human life of a warmer planet mean already vulnerable communities who live close to sources of water will face more flooding and drought.

For the Pacific, this means the loss of more atolls to sea level rise, salt water intrusion to fresh water supplies and staple crops, and the forced migration of Pacific Islanders.

“Some countries will disappear from the face of the world”, Dr Wairiu said.

He said a 1.5 degree global average temperature was the threshold in which Pacific Islands would be able to survive, therefore. Beyond that, the future was relatively unknown.

Despite this, Dr Wairiu stressed that the report was not a policy document.

“We will not be entering into any policy dialogue or giving directions to countries in terms of policy issues.

“The commitment has already been made.”

Pacific Media Centre’s Kendall Hutt interviewing Professor Morgan Wairiu … the report will have no bearing on COP23 taks in Bonn in November, but is important for the Pacific. Image: Julie Cleaver/PMC

Due to the report’s 2018 release and its nature, Dr Wairiu said it would also have no bearing on the upcoming COP23 talks in Bonn, Germany, which is co-chaired by Fiji.

Although the report is important for the Pacific, Dr Wairiu acknowledged.

“It’s very important because this is a call from Pacific Island countries. You know, they formed this coalition around the legal setting of 1.5 degrees during the Paris COP meeting, which is part of the Paris Agreement.

“This particular report will inform Pacific Island countries whether achieving 1.5 degrees is feasible or not. We’ll still be making very important decisions based on this report.”

Julie Cleaver and Kendall Hutt are in Fiji for the Bearing Witness project. A collaborative venture between the University of the South Pacific’s journalism programme, the Pacific Centre for the Environment and Sustainable Development (PaCE-SD), the Auckland University of Technology’s Pacific Media Centre and documentary collective Te Ara Motuhenga, Bearing Witness seeks to provide an alternative framing of climate change, focusing on resilience and human rights.