The World Bank is so concerned about climate change that it is including the possibility of its impacts in its economic assessment on Pacific Island states. The organisation, which wields significant influence in economic policy in many developing nations, says that small island states in the Pacific are already among the most vulnerable nations in the world to the impacts of extreme weather events. It also warns of dire consequences if immediate action is not taken to limit the impact of climate change, which it considers as “one of the most important challenges of the twenty-first century and a priority for immediate action”.

The report, Cities, Seas and Storms: Managing Change in Pacific Island Economies, forming part of the World Bank’s Year 2000 Regional Economic Report for the Pacific Islands, warns of losses of coastal infrastructure and land, more intense cyclones and droughts, failure of subsistence crops and coastal fisheries, losses in coral reefs, and the spread of malaria and dengue fever. The report was produced in collaboration with numerous experts on Oceania’s environment and climate and examines the possible impacts of changes in climate on a high and a low island of the Pacific, and discusses key adaptation and financing strategies available to Pacific Island countries. It aims “to improve understanding of the need and scope for actions which can assist Pacific Island governments, businesses and communities to better adapt to the challenges posed by climate change, and help them identify adaptation strategies consistent with the development aspirations of their countries and their people”.

Given the uncertainty of predicting the extent of future climate change, the report recommends a strategy of precautionary adaptation in which countries would put in place ‘no regrets’ adaptation measures that would be justified under any climate change scenario. These could include better management of natural resources, particularly of coastal habitats, land, and water resources, and measures such as disease vector control and improved spatial planning. Taking early action may require adjustments of current development paths, but this could substantially decrease future costs as climate change occurs, the report argues.

But the Pacific Island countries will need help in undertaking adaptation. “The analysis clearly indicates that as the Pacific Islands are likely to experience significant incremental costs from climate change it is urgent that the international community move rapidly to develop financing mechanisms to help countries in the receiving end of climate change fund ‘no regrets’ adaptation,” said World Bank Senior Natural Resources Economist, Sofia Bettencourt.

“The study confirms what we have always sensed and observed about climate change and its effects on our way of life,” said Kiribati’s Co-ordinator for the Pacific Islands Climate Change Assistance Program, Nakibae Teuatabo. Pacific nations, including Kiribati, voiced their extreme disappointment and worry that no deal was achieved at the end of the extended United Nations conference on climate change (see above story on the talks and related story on Pacific nations’ concern).

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