28 Nov 2013

Climate proofing could cost Pacific 800M a year by 2100

5:48 pm on 28 November 2013

A new report has found that Pacific countries will have to spend up to to $800 million a year by the century's end in efforts to combat climate change.

The Asian Development Bank has looked at the impacts of climate change on the economies of six Pacific Island nations up to 2100.

Olivia Wix examines the findings.

When we hear about climate change in the Pacific, Kiribati and Tuvalu are the poster countries. Rising sea levels mean the island states will soon be uninhabitable. Deemed too badly affected to have quality environmental reporting, the Asian Development Bank report didn't even look at those two countries. Instead it looked at Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Samoa. The Assistant Chief Economist from the Bank, Cyn-Young Park, says their bank balances are going to take a massive hit.

"CYN-YOUNG PARK: The countries will require, for the worst case scenario in the range of $220 million to $800 million. On average, it will be about $450 million a year."

That's anything from 3 to 15 percent of GDP. The bank says Papua New Guinea will be worst hit, followed closely by Timor Leste. Fiji and Samoa get off a bit more lightly. Dr Jim Sallinger is a climate scientist who has spent the past 20 years focusing on the impacts of climate change on the Pacific. He says the economic impact mainly comes down to fishing and agricultural production.

JIM SALLINGER: Fish will just move around as the temperatures change. So suddenly you might have had a tuna fishery, then you've lost it. And a lot of these Pacific island economies, fisheries is a very significant part of either subsistence or the cash that they get. In terms of agricultural production, you imagine if your mean temperature is 30 and you go to 32 degrees, agriculture doesn't really cope very well.

The bank recommends climate-proofing infrastructure. Dr Sallinger says it is even more simple than that.

JIM SALLINGER: You'd have to look very seriously at moving off the coast into inland areas. Simply building sea walls just doesn't make it. You have to be like the Dutch and have huge dykes. But I think the sort of countries you're looking at you couldn't do that. So basically you've got to retreat or accommodate.

Ms Young from the Asia Development Bank, says it is also important for countries like New Zealand to assist more.

CYN-YOUNG PARK: Large international finance to make this adaptation more effective. It's going to be a key element and crucial for continuing that development.

Barry Coates from Oxfam agrees.

BARRY COATES: Countries like New Zealand need to be out there, making forward commitments and pledges to really do this. So it's been disappointing. New Zealand says we're a Pacific country, but actually when it comes to these kind of issues we turn our backs on our neighbours.

While America and Australia have looked at the economic effect of climate change on their countries, New Zealand is yet to do so.