30 Nov 2012

Climate change threatens Pacific Islands

11:01 pm on 30 November 2012

A leading Australian expert on climate change says Pacific nations are facing serious challenges when it comes to food security.

Mark Howden, from Australia's national science agency the CSIRO, says climate change, rising sea levels and the cost of shipping food to outer islands, are all factors to be considered over the next few decades.

Dr Howden is leading the food security chapter of a forthcoming United Nations report on climate change, the ABC reports.

He says population growth in the Pacific islands has stressed the capacity of local food production, which in turn has led to most countries importing their food.

The capacity to buy and deliver the food will become an issue as fossil fuel prices rise.

"In the longer term, [fuel prices] will increase, and that will increase the cost of food transport to Pacific Islands," he said.

"They are very isolated and those costs can be quite high. So I think, in the future, some of these issues that we're currently seeing will increase simply because of those almost inevitable economic changes."

"And then we throw in climate change, which will become in a sense quite wetter and hotter in the equatorial regions, and hotter and drier in most of the rest of the Pacific. And those themselves will have impacts on those islands.

"Sea level rise and salination of fresh water supplies and acidification of some of those ocean waters around the Pacific islands, particularly the more southerly ones, are going to impact on the food web in the ocean as well."

Dr Howden says attention must be focused on tackling food security and water shortage as "connected" issues.

This week, thousands of people in Samoa have had their water supplies rationed as the country's catchments dry up.

"Where water is being used for agricultural production or food processing, clearly then your capacity to actually provide adequate water of adequate quality is going to impact on those food production and processing activities," Dr Howden said.

"We know in a whole range of Pacific Islands that that's either happening or likely to happen, that water's going to become more limited".