3 Dec 2013

PNG to be worst hit economically by climate change

5:50 pm on 3 December 2013

The Asian Development Bank says reduced food crops in Papua New Guinea will be a main cause of economic damage brought on by climate change.

A new report by the bank assessed the potential impacts of climate change on agriculture, fisheries, tourism, coral reefs and human health in PNG, Timor Leste, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Samoa.

A senior economist, Christopher Edmonds, says climate change could trigger a loss of as much as 15.2 percent of Papua New Guinea's GDP by 2100 - the worst of the six countries studied.

He told Mary Baines the report shows the region will need US$447 million every year to prepare for worst-case scenarios.

CHRISTOPHER EDMONDS: It tried to relate what the global climate change models are saying about what's going to happen to weather and climate globally and then look at how will that impact individual pacific countries - PNG, Timor-Leste,Solomon Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga. So you take these global models and you relay them to each national economy using, basically, GIS techniques, so you know what the structure of the economy is, where it's located, how much it relies on natural resources, in particular rainfall, fresh water, things like that. And then based on that you use impact models to assess what the magnitude effects would be, given the different global climate change scenarios.

MARY BAINES: Different sectors will be affected - agriculture, fisheries, tourism.

CE: Correct.

MB: Which countries are the worst off and how will they be affected?

CE: We basically are seeing that agriculture will be the most severely affected sector of the economy with annual losses of upwards of 10% for some economies. Especially for the poorest people in the Pacific countries, that's a real concern about where will they be getting their food? It turns out in PNG one of the most affected crops will be the sweet potato, which is the staple there. We are expecting significant production declines in that staple crop. It puts people's nutrition and livelihood in danger. We go into very detailed modelling for different crops and look at different ways of adjusting production patterns to mitigate the effects of climate change. With agricultural technology you can come up with new varieties that are more drought-resistant or can adjust to take advantage of the changing climate conditions. With rising heat we see energy bills for air conditioning going up across the countries, so that would probably be the second largest impact. We worry about coral bleaching. With global sea temperatures rising even slightly, that could have follow-on effects with tourism sectors - if places are hotter and they don't have the nice coral anymore you might expect to see fewer tourists arriving. There's also a whole lot of public health implications of global climate change, in terms of rising populations of mosquitoes that would communicate diseases.

MB: And it's been calculated that the region will need $447 million each year so should larger nations that are in part responsible for this climate change, should we be stepping up and doing more?

CE: The developed world does need to do more, but obviously it's a challenge because we're facing tighter times. So we see a number of countries actually adjusting downward their aid programmes. It looks like ausAID's commitment is going downward in coming days and USAID - in the North Pacific that's a very important bilateral donor and they actually have a programme to phase out their Compacts of Free Association that provide large amounts of budget support for the northern Pacific countries. And these are basically in the course of being downscaled to zero by 2023 right now. So it's an irony at the same time, where it looks like the needs to adapt global climate change are very clear and we're getting a better handle on them, if anything the donors are doing the opposite and reducing their assistance.