UN official stands up for Pacific island nations, says climate adaptation initiatives are underfunded
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Against the backdrop of ultramodern architecture, towering buildings, luxury shopping and lively nightscape, world leaders will gather in Dubai this week for the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
"For the people of Tuvalu, this is not just another meeting amid the glitz and glamour of Dubai, it is a fight for existence," said Munkhtuya Altangerel, resident representative of the UN Development Programs for the Pacific Office in Fiji.
Altangerel called the world's attention to Pacific island nations, whose voices, she said, "are critical to the negotiations on climate financing, loss and damage."
"Small island developing states like Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati – the list goes on – are fighting for their future," she said.
While funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation in the Pacific region may have increased over the years, Altangerel said the level still falls short of where it needs to be.
"What will that future look like should they not be able to adapt?"she asked.
In a statement preceding the UN's two-week summit that will open on Nov. 30,
Altangerel underscored the need to amplify the Pacific voices at COP28.
"Without understanding the contextual nuances of the region and the impacts that are already being felt by Pacific peoples, we will continue down a path with critical ramifications," she said.
Also known as the Conference of the Parties or COP28, the event will see the gathering of world leaders and government representatives from 200 countries, alongside an estimated 70,000 delegates.
"COP28 marks the first time the world convenes to take stock of progress made since the Paris Agreement," according to the event's website. "The UAE is set to unite the world towards agreement on bold, practical and ambitious solutions to the most pressing global challenge of our time – climate change."
In the Blue Pacific region, Altangerel said the threats of climate anomalies lurk behind the pristine waters and lush greenery.
"Countries are slowly disappearing, their very existence threatened by the continued impacts of climate change. This is not a distant dystopian fantasy, but a grim reality facing many small island developing states," she said, stressing that adopting solutions "is non-negotiable."
Altangerel noted that geographically isolated island countries with scarce resources are already experiencing the impact of sea level rise, saltwater intrusion and more extreme weather events year after year.
"Take a nation like Tuvalu: its highest point above sea level sits at just 4.6 meters or 15 feet. For want of comparison, the tallest player to grace the courts of the National Basketball Association in America was Gheorghe Muresan, who stood at 2.31 meters," she said.
While signs of climate change are evident, Altangerel said the 2024 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report indicated that efforts to double down and combat the crisis are regressing.
"In fact, the current trajectory of the Asia-Pacific region indicates that achieving any of the sustainable development goals by 2030 is highly unlikely," she said. "A widening gulf exists between the region's aspirations and the realities on the ground, with particularly concerning setbacks in climate change targets."
Altangerel said the disparities widen each year due to the weakened policy implementation. The report indicated that the goals will not be achieved in Asia and the Pacific until 2064, she added.
Besides policy issues, funding is another challenge.
Altangerel cited the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report, which estimated that adaptation needs would reach US$127 billion and US$295 billion per year for developing countries alone by 2030 and 2050, respectively.
"At present, adaptation accounts for just 4-8 percent of tracked climate finance, a figure that totaled $579 billion in 2017-2018," Altangerel said. "As seen at the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in the Cook Islands earlier this month, there is a strong desire among many member countries to see Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development nations deliver on their previous promises."
Altangerel noted that Vanuatu is one country that has experienced "the true force" of climate irregularities, with twin typhoons hitting the island nation one after the other earlier this year.
"One of the most at-risk and disaster-prone nations across the world, Vanuatu faces a range of natural hazards such as cyclones, volcanic eruptions, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts and sea-level rise." she said.
Category 4 Tropical Cyclone Judy struck Vanuatu on March 1, with Tropical Cyclone Kevin making landfall just two days later, a second Category 4 cyclone.
"According to Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office, a total of 197,388 people were affected by Tropical Cyclones Judy and Kevin, representing approximately 66 percent of the total population," Altangerel said.
While still in the recovery phase from TCs Judy and Kevin, Vanuatu was hit again by Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Lola, devastating northern parts of the island archipelago in October.