Updated: Apr 21
Small island nations are being hit hardest by climate change, yet the United States’ grant programs for these sinking locations are underfunded, according to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.
He said the U.S. needs to invest more in small island developing states that lack the resources and capacity to handle the destabilizing impacts of the climate anomaly, which causes the sea levels to rise.
“In 2020, only 3 percent of climate finance was directed toward these countries. We’ve got to fix that,” Blinken said in his remarks at the opening of the U.S.-hosted climate change summit Monday.
Studies indicate that Pacific islands are extremely vulnerable to climate change. The most substantial impacts of climate change include losses of coastal infrastructure and land, more intense cyclones and droughts, failure of subsistence crops and coastal fisheries, losses of coral reefs and mangroves, and the spread of certain diseases.
In 2019, a report by an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identified the low-lying coral atoll nations — the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu in the Pacific and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, which all average just a few feet above sea level — as most particularly vulnerable to rising oceans.
The report warned that the sea level could rise by 1 to 4 feet by 2100, potentially submerging these nations, making them uninhabitable by 2050.
To supplement its assistance, Blinken said the U.S. is deploying experts and technology to vulnerable islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean “to improve early warning and response systems, and we’re investing in building resilience in areas like infrastructure and agriculture.”
The summit titled, “Tackling the Crisis and Seizing the Opportunity: America’s Global Climate Leadership” sees the gathering of heads of states and climate experts at the Phillip Merrill Environmental Center in Annapolis, Maryland.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supported capacity-building efforts in the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau, which in turn helped to secure $10.4 million in climate change-related grants from the Green Climate Fund (GCF).
This funding will help the people of these two countries to be safer and more resilient to the impacts of climate change. Climate change is an existential threat to both nations.
In FSM, the USAID assistance helped the country to develop a strategy to improve climate resilience and increase food security for farming households, which secured $9.4 million in GCF funding. The new strategy will introduce and enhance sustainable agricultural practices and develop climate-resilient agriculture value chains.
With assistance, Palau was able to secure a $1 million award from the GCF that will position the country to unlock even greater access to climate change mitigation funding, USAID said.
"This grant will enable the government to recruit and train staff and establish policies needed to secure financing and implement their own efforts to combat the effects of climate change," USAID said. "The grant will support Palau to apply for GCF accreditation -- a crucial step in allowing the country to apply for even more climate-related international funding."
At the summit in Annapolis, Blinken said climate change exacerbates existing conflicts and increases the chances of new ones – particularly in countries where governments are weak and resources are scarce.
"Of the 20 countries the Red Cross considers most vulnerable to climate change, 12 are already experiencing armed conflicts. As essential resources like water dwindle, as governments struggle to meet the needs of growing populations, we’ll see more suffering and more strife," he said.
Climate change can also create new theaters of conflict, he added.
"In February, a Russian gas tanker sailed through the Arctic’s Northern Sea Route for the first time ever. Until recently, that route was only passable a few weeks each year. But with the Arctic warming at twice the rate of the rest of the global average, that period is getting much longer. Russia is exploiting this change to try to exert control over new spaces. It is modernizing its bases in the Arctic and building new ones, including one just 300 miles from Alaska. China is increasing its presence in the Arctic, too.
Climate change can drive migration, Blinken said, recalling 13 Atlantic hurricanes in 2020 – the highest number on record.
"Central America was hit especially hard. Storms destroyed the homes and livelihoods of 6.8 million people in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and wiped out hundreds of thousands of acres of crops, leading to a massive rise in hunger. Months after the storms, entire villages are still subsumed in mud, and people are carving off pieces of their buried homes to sell as scrap metal.
"When disasters strike people who are already living in poverty and insecurity, it can often be the final straw, pushing them to abandon their communities in search of a better place to live," Blinken said.