Earlier this month, parts of Papua New Guinea (PNG) experienced a strong rising tide that inundated communities and displaced an estimated 53,000 people.. Royal tides are the highest expected tides of the year and are reaching higher and higher levels as climate change pushes sea levels up. For PNG – facing more than double the global average annual sea level rise – the worst is yet to come.
In coastal and island communities of Bougainville, Manus Island, East Sepik and the provinces of New Ireland, media reported that flooding had submerged schools, homes, gardens, water catchments. water and cemeteries, and that some houses had been completely washed away.
Ron Knight, a resident of Manus Island and a former member of parliament experienced in coordinating emergency response to past floods, told Human Rights Watch that the floods will have a prolonged effect on the capacity of members of the parliament. community to collect food and that the elderly, children and newborns are particularly at risk when essential food sources are affected.
The devastation caused by recent flooding is a stark reminder of the urgency of the climate crisis for countries in the Pacific. While contributing very little to the global emissions that are causing the climate crisis, PNG’s coastal and island communities face severe climate impacts as sea levels rise and coastal erosion affects the land. access to food and water and force residents to relocate.
During discussions on the global climate at COP26 last month, Pacific countries urged the international community to cut emissions in order to reduce the adverse effects of the climate crisis. But the commitments of COP26 fall far short of what is needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change in the Pacific and elsewhere.
Governments have an obligation to protect people from the foreseeable damage of climate change. They should take concrete steps to go beyond promises made in Glasgow to cut emissions quickly. Governments must also urgently prepare to protect populations at risk during climate disasters. Developed countries with high emission rates should increase their support to developing countries for adaptation to already inevitable climate impacts. For the people of PNG, as for the other communities most affected by climate impacts, the days of empty commitments are long past.