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Climate Change and Food Security in the Pacific Islands

Authors:

Abstract

Climate change poses diverse risks to the food security of individuals and communities in small Pacific Island states and offers a challenge to human rights. Climate change is likely to emphasize contemporary environmental trends and problems, ranging from land degradation, deforestation and the loss of biodiversity, to coastal erosion and the pollution of lagoons. Climate change will adversely affect food systems in the region, including the supply of food from both agriculture and fisheries, the ability of countries to import food through reduction in incomes and damage to infrastructure for food distribution, and the ability of households to purchase and utilize food. If tourism is also affected by climate change national and household incomes are likely to decline, fisheries may be first affected because of climatic impacts on coral reefs and sea temperatures and the mobility of marine species. Reduced agricultural production may be both long-term and short-term outcomes of particular climatic shocks, especially cyclones, with threats most likely to follow particular events rather than the outcome of mean changes in temperature or sea level. Coral atolls, and the atoll states of Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, are most at risk. Cyclones are likely to become more frequent and reduce the ability of food systems to recover. In multiple ways, climate change puts at risk the very basic and universal need for people in Pacific SIDS to have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food at all times.
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Climate change and Food Security in the Pacific Islands
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Jon Barnett
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School of Geography, The University of Melbourne, Australia, Tel:. +61-3-8344-0819,
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fax +61-3-9349-4218, e-mail: jbarn@unimelb.edu.au
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Keywords: Small Islands, agriculture, fisheries, development, vulnerability
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Barnett, J. 2019. ‘Climate Change and Food Security in the Pacific Islands’, in
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Connell, J. and Lowitt, K. (eds) Food Security in Small Island States, Springer
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Nature, Singapore: 25-38.
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Abstract
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This chapter explores the risks that climate change poses to the food security of
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individuals and communities in the Pacific Islands through analysis of risks to food
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production, access, and utilization. It shows that climate change will adversely effect
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food systems in the region, including the supply of food from agriculture and fisheries,
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the ability of countries to import food, systems for the distribution of food, and the
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ability of households to purchase and utilise food. In these ways climate change puts at
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risk the very basic and universal need for people in the islands to have access to
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sufficient, safe and nutritious food at all times.
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Introduction
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This chapter explores the risks that climate change poses to food security in the islands
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of the South Pacific. Its focus is, for the most part, on social systems and the people
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who shape and are shaped by them. This is, in a sense, a kind of ‘bottom up’
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perspective, informed not so much by abstract models of climate and biophysical
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systems, but by the author’s understanding of the everyday processes that make and
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remake social life in the region. This is useful because it shifts the focus of analysis to
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existing vulnerabilities to climate as a basis for determining future vulnerabilities – the
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importance of which has been stressed by Ford and colleagues (2010).
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The Pacific Islands
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There are twenty-two island states and territories in the South Pacific, the combined
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population of which is 11.3 million. Of these, 8.1 million reside in Papua New Guinea
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(SPC 2018). Population growth, particularly in the Melanesian countries, is high, and
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these countries additionally have considerable rates of rural to urban migration.
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The total land area of all islands in the region is approximately 550,000 km2, which
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contrasts markedly with the region’s combined exclusive economic zone of some 30 106
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km2 (Overton 1999). The largest country is Papua New Guinea with a land area of
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462,000 km2, while the smallest is Tokelau with a land area of 12 km2. The Melanesian
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countries are, generally, large and mountainous with fertile soils and mineral resources.
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The Polynesian and Micronesian islands vary in type from smaller volcanic islands to
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low-lying coral atolls. Almost all of these islands are small, although they often have
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extensive reef and lagoon systems that provide a considerable amount of protein to
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communities. Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Tokelau and Tuvalu are comprised entirely
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of low-lying coral atolls. In all countries, capital cities and most other major urban
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centres are situated on the coast, and most or all critical infrastructure is located in the
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coastal zone.
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Gross Domestic Products in the region are low, ranging from US$ 10 million in Tokelau
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to US$ 19 billion in Papua New Guinea (Pacific Community 2018). GDP per capita is
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low in most countries, ranging from US$ 1,500 in Kiribati to US$ 31,000 in New
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Caledonia. Kiribati, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are currently
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classified as Least Developed Countries. Tourism is an important industry in some
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countries, accounting for up to 47% of GDP in Fiji and Vanuatu, 22% in Kiribati and
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Tonga, (Cheer et al. 2017). The equatorial countries receive income from licensing fees
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paid by foreign operated fishing boats operating within their territorial waters, and that
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accounts for up to 4o% of GDP in Kiribati and Tuvalu (ADB 2004). Primary industries
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account for less than 30% of formal GDP in all countries in the region, and in most
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countries its share is less than 20%, though these figures belie the large contribution
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agriculture and fisheries make to the informal economy and livelihoods (UNDP 2014).
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Nine of the region’s countries and territories are fully independent. Six are self-
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governing and constitutionally independent, but with some form of association with
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either the United States or New Zealand. Seven are dependent territories either of
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France, the United States, or New Zealand. These political ties influence aid flows and
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income from remittances. Most of the smaller Polynesian and Micronesian economies
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are heavily dependent on aid. In the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the
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Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, and Tuvalu aid accounts for at least one third of GDP.
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Remittances sent from migrants living overseas (largely in Australia, New Zealand and
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the United States) are also important. In 2016 remittances accounted for 10% of GDP in
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Kiribati, 12% in Tuvalu, 14% in the Marshall Islands, 15% in Samoa, and 28% in
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Tonga (World Bank 2017), though the real value of remittances in all countries in the
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region are probably far larger than these estimates.
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Pacific Island societies contend with an array of environmental problems, including:
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land degradation, such as soil nutrient depletion and soil loss; deforestation due to
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logging for timber exports, clearing for agriculture, and fuel wood collection;
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biodiversity losses across a range of terrestrial and marine flora and fauna; depletion of
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freshwater resources through saline incursions and contamination from urban,
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agricultural and industrial sources; and coastal and marine degradation, including
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coastal erosion, coral loss and coral bleaching, contracting artisanal fisheries, and
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pollution of lagoons (Connell 2013). These environmental problems increase the
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vulnerability of ecosystems to the effects of climate change.
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Regional scale changes in climate
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Projections of the possible changes in climate in the Pacific Islands region apply to the
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region as a whole and not to specific countries, because the grid squares in General
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Circulation Models are between 200 and 600 km2, which provides insufficient
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resolution for the land areas of almost all the Pacific Islands. Projections from an
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ensemble of global models gives some indication the range of changes in rainfall,
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temperature and sea-level that may be expected in the region relative to the period
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1986-2005, given modest increases in greenhouse gas emissions in the future (which are
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taken from the IPCC Representative Concentration Pathways, specifically RCP4.5).
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These models suggest that by the end of the century in the Southern Pacific air
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temperatures will have increased by between1.1 and 1.5°C, annual precipitation will
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have increased by up to 4%, and sea-levels will have risen by between 0.5 and 0.6 of a
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meter (Nurse et al. 2014). A 32 cm rise in sea-level is considered to have serious
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implications for the continued viability of ecological and social systems on low-lying
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coral atolls (Pearce and Teuatabo 2000). These projections may be conservative given
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both the possibility of higher concentrations of emissions and observations of
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temperature and sea-level increases that suggest higher rates of change in recent decades
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(Lough et al. 2011, Nurse et al. 2014).
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However, mean changes are perhaps less indicative of future risk than variations in
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extremes of temperature, rainfall, winds and sea-levels, which are all likely to increase
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in coming decades (Nurse et al. 2014). For example, with precipitation it is less the
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mean annual changes, and rather the frequency and intensity of rainfall events that
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matter most, particularly given that the region is prone to floods and droughts. Water for
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agriculture is almost entirely supplied by rainfall rather than by irrigation systems. More
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rainfall is expected in summer – which is the wet period in the region, and there may be
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less rainfall in the already dry months. This has implications for sustaining crops
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throughout the year. Rainfall events are also likely to be more intense, and possibly less
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frequent, with implications for flooding and drought events (Nurse et al. 2014).
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The risks to coral atolls, and to coral systems throughout the region, is a function not
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just of rising sea-levels, but also of rapid changes in sea-surface temperature which
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cause coral reef mortality through coral bleaching. Evidence suggests that tropical sea-
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surface temperatures have been rising over the past 50 years, with an increase in
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extremes of sea-surface temperatures associated with increasingly severe bleaching
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episodes (Hughes et al. 2018a). Kench et al. (2005) suggest that undisturbed reef
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systems may persist under conditions of rising sea-levels and rapid increases in sea-
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surface temperature, and that it is human disturbances on reefs that make them
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vulnerable to climate change. Bleaching of reefs causes erosion of shorelines through
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changes in sedimentation. It also impacts on artisanal fisheries, and is a factor in
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ciguatera fish poisoning (Hughes et al., 2018b, Hales et al. 1999).
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Associated with these projected changes in temperature, precipitation and sea-level are
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projected changes in regional climate systems and extreme events. Of particular
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importance to development in the region is ENSO, which in El Niño years brings
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drought to most of the region. For example the 1997-98 El Niño caused widespread
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drought and subsequent food shortages in the islands west of the international dateline.
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Agricultural losses in Fiji were valued at US$ 65 million, and some 260,000 people in
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Papua New Guinea were in a life threatening condition due to depleted food supply
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(WMO 1999). In Niue the 1983 El Niño resulted in a 60% decrease in mean annual
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rainfall, forest fires, and a dramatic fall in agricultural exports and a dramatic increase in
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food imports. Modelling studies suggest that climate change may double the frequency
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of El Niño events in the future (Cai et al. 2014)
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The ENSO phenomenon has a significant influence on tropical cyclone frequency and
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possibly also on intensity. El Niño years tend to increase the frequency of tropical
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cyclones in islands to the east of the international dateline. While the relationship
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between climate change and tropical cyclones is still highly uncertain, there is evidence
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that they may become more intense in the future – meaning that such cyclones may last
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longer, exhibit higher wind speeds and unleash more rainfall (Walsh et al. 2016). In
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many Pacific Islands cyclones are a cause of mortality and injury. They also cause
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massive financial losses. For example, in recent years Cyclone Pam which struck
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Vanuatu in 2015 caused 11 deaths and damages equal to about 60% of GDP, and
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Cyclone Winston which struck Fiji in 2016 caused the deaths of 44 people and $460
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million in damages (Finau et al. 2018, Handmer and Iveson 2017, Marto et al. 2018).
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In 2004 Cyclone Heta in Niue destroyed 43 houses that were more than 25 m above sea-
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level, as well as the national hospital, national museum, and the bulk fuel storage tanks
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(Government of Niue 2004). As well as wind damage, and damage from increased
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rainfall and flooding, cyclones induce storm surges which can reach up to six meters in
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height, and, in the case of cyclone Heta in Niue, waves in excess of 30 m in height.
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Barker (2000) goes so far as to argue that in Niue cyclones have powerfully shaped the
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structure of contemporary society through their effects on out-migration and aid
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dependence.
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It is the possibility of increases in the frequency and intensity of such hazards, rather
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than changes in mean conditions, that poses the most immediate danger to Pacific
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Islands. Barnett and Campbell (2010) suggest that a critical factor for social-ecological
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systems in the region will be a decrease in the return times of extreme events, which in
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turn will reduce the ability of systems to recover, causing long-term declines in welfare.
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These changes in extremes will be compounded by changes in mean sea-level,
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temperature, and rainfall, and both these changes in extremes and mean conditions pose
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dangers to the Pacific islands through their impacts on agriculture, fisheries, health,
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food security, economic development, and population movements. Of these, the
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following discussion is limited to the issues of food production and food security. In
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terms of food production the focus is on the two most important local sources of food
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for most Pacific Islanders – agriculture and fisheries.
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Impacts on agriculture
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In most Pacific Islands agriculture is primarily conducted for subsistence purposes, and
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in some cases for sale to domestic and international markets. For the most part the value
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of agricultural exports is small relative to imports. Few households meet their own food
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needs entirely through their own production, but rely in part on markets for at least
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some of their food needs.
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Agricultural production in the Pacific islands is likely to be adversely affected by
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climate change in a number of ways. For coastal communities, the effects of erosion,
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increased contamination of groundwater and estuaries by saltwater incursion, cyclones
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and storm surges, heat stress, and drought may individually or in combination
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undermine food production. Cyclones are a significant cause of lost agricultural
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production, for example, Cyclone Ami caused over US$ 35 million in lost crops in Fiji
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in 2003, and thirteen years later cyclone Winston caused over US$100 m in crop losses
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(McKenzie et al. 2005, FAO 2016). Drought presents problems to agriculture
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everywhere in the region, particularly given the lack of irrigation. The increased risk of
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flooding in river catchments also threatens food production, for example, severe
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flooding of the Wainibuka and Rewa Rivers in Fiji in April 2004 caused damages to
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between 50-70% of crops (Fiji Government 2004). Increasingly intense rainfall events,
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coupled with ongoing processes of deforestation and longer dry spells, may all impact
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on soil fertility.
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The effects of climate change on critical infrastructure may also undermine agriculture
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for both subsistence and commercial purposes. Damage to equipment for processing
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and storing food can undermine the effective supply of food, and damages to roads, rail,
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and vehicles due to storms and cyclones can disrupt the supply of goods to markets,
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undermining the livelihoods of rural growers. Large scale economic changes can also
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undermine food production. Impacts on production in key sectors such as tourism, and
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increasing public expenditure on repairing and replacing lost infrastructure may all have
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impacts on employment and incomes. This in turn could suppress demand for locally
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grown foods sold in local markets.
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Traditionally Pacific Island communities grew multiple crops, which tended to confer
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some resilience in food supply as not all crops were affected by specific hazards such as
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a drought or cyclone (Campbell 1990; Elmqvist 2000). Repeated attempts to develop
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monocultural cash crops such as copra, coffee, and sugar cane, combined with the
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effects of the cash economy and penetration of markets of often cheaper if less healthy
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foods, have all served to weaken the diversity and intensity of local production in many
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places. The effects of these changes have been increased dependence on the market for
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food, decreased resilience of food supply in the face of hazards (given low incomes and
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relatively high food prices), and a ‘nutrition transition’ in the region associated with
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increased rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease (Popkin et al. 2001). Food aid in
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response to droughts has been shown to further increase dependence on poor quality
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foods and hasten the nutrition tradition (Ahlgren et al. 2014).
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These changes are all functions of increased penetration of international markets and of
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development assistance of various kinds, as well as increased urbanization and in some
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cases, decreases in security of land tenure (Colding et al. 2003; Clarke and Thaman
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1993). The problem is that these attempted shifts towards modern agricultural
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economies and, more generally affluent industrial societies, have failed to deliver the
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kinds of resilient agricultural and food systems that developed countries enjoy, whilst at
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the same time undermining the resilience associated with traditional, agricultural
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systems. Vulnerability is then manifested in the seemingly permanent transitional nature
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of Pacific societies.
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Impacts on fisheries
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Given that the ratio of land area to sea area in the Pacific region is 1:300, it is not
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surprising that fisheries play a critical role in food supply and economic development in
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the Pacific islands. Fish is an important source of protein for most coastal communities
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in the Pacific (Bell et al. 2009). Per capita consumption of fish in the region is very high
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by global standards, with an average of 70 kg of fish being consumed per person per
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year across the region in the early 1990s (Gillett et al. 2001). Fisheries also provide
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income to many coastal communities who harvest shellfish and shells, corals,
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crustaceans, marine plants, finfish and other species. Inland freshwater fisheries are also
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important sources of food in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Fiji.
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In terms of economic development, the value of landed tuna caught in the waters of the
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Western and Central Pacific ocean is approximately US5.8 billion, with a final market
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value of approximately US$ 22 billion (FFA 2015, Galland et al. 2016). Of this, around
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80% is caught in the Exclusive Economic Zones of Pacific island countries, although
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only about 10% of this catch is landed in the Pacific islands (FFA 2015). Most of the
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fish caught is by distant water fishing nations, which pay Pacific Island governments
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some US$270 million a year in access fees (FFA 2015). These fees are an important
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source of government revenue, accounting for up to 40% in the case of Kiribati, and
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over 10% in the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Tokelau and Tuvalu (Gillett
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2009).
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Fishing is very important to the economies of some countries, accounting, for example,
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for 56% of GDP in Kiribati and 26% in the Marshall Islands (Gillett 2009). For some
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countries, including Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, the remittances sent home from
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workers on fishing boats are also important. Gillett et al. (2001) estimated that the
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industrial tuna fishery accounts for up to 25,000 jobs in the region, and that subsistence
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fishing is critical to livelihoods of up to 20 times that number of people.
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Fishing is a combination of luck and skill. Pacific Islanders are highly skilled at fishing,
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with many societies having a rich body of traditional knowledge about where and how
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to catch fish (see for example Hooper 1983; Johannes 1978). There is considerable
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uncertainty about the effects of climate change on the artisanal fisheries upon which
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many Pacific Islanders depend for food and income. It is important to note that
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increasing temporal and spatial variability in fish abundance caused by the degradation
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of reefs and mangroves, and the turbidity, salinity and temperature of water due to
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climate change is possible. These changes extend the abilities of Pacific Islanders to
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sustain fish catches. The effect of increasing variability in abundance may affect
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nutrition and the incomes of coastal populations dependent on artisanal fisheries. It may
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also increase the time and fuel costs associated with catching fish, with opportunity
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costs for other livelihood strategies.
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In terms of the tuna fishery, changes in ENSO conditions cause variations in catch per
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unit of effort rates across the South Pacific (SPC 2006). If climate change causes ENSO
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events to become more frequent or more severe, then this may in turn affect the amount
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of fish caught in the Exclusive Economic Zones of the equatorial Pacific Islands and the
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revenue they earn from access fees paid by distant water fishing nations. Climate
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change may also cause an extension of the present range of tuna to higher latitudes, a
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decrease in net productivity, increase variability in the catches and so decrease catch per
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unit of effort with subsequent impacts on the costs of production and prices, and
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potentially increase pressure on the most valuable species of bigeye and yellowfin in an
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attempt to offset increasing costs (SPC 2006).
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Increases in storm damages due to climate change in the region may also impact on
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fisheries development through damage to and loss of boats, boat launching facilities,
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fuel facilities, and fish storage and processing facilities. For example, cyclone Heta
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which struck Niue in 2004, caused severe damage to sea tracks from which fisherman
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launch canoes, as well as to both of the derricks used for lifting small vessels into and
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out of the water, with the result being that fishing for subsistence purposes ceased for
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some weeks. So, through changes in fish habitats, migration patterns, and in fishing-
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related infrastructure, climate change poses significant risks to fisheries and to the
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people and islands that depend on them for food and income.
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Impacts on food security
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Food production, as specifically identified in Article 2, is only one component of food
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security. Food security is defined as a situation “when all people, at all times, have
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physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets
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their dietary and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO 2002). Food
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security has three components: food availability, ability to access food, and the ability to
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utilize food.
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There are macro and micro dimensions to food security. Macro dimensions include
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issues such as the total supply of food in country and the prices of food, which is a
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function of local production and imports. In as much as common illnesses in developing
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countries, such as malaria and gastro-intestinal disorders, impede a body’s ability to
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effectively utilize food, then public health issues associated with water quality and
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disease control are also important. The ability of people to purchase food is also a
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function of markets for local products and labor, including the costs of labor relative to
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the costs of food. Micro issues include the ability of a household to grow its own food,
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or to purchase food, and the health of people as this affects their ability to effectively
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utilize food. People’s food needs include a sufficient supply of calories, protein, and
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micronutrients, and so the types of food that can be accessed is also important for food
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security.
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There is also a temporal dimension to food security. People who are poor may be
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chronically food insecure – meaning they consistently consume insufficient amounts of
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food. People may also be generally food secure, but vulnerable to periods of food
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insecurity arising from, for example, disasters undermining their own production for
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subsistence purposes and for sale to markets, or sudden changes in food prices and/or
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wages. When large scale food crises occur – as they still do in parts of Africa – it is the
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chronically food insecure who are most at risk of death.
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Because food security is a function of food production, economic growth and
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employment, poverty and public health, it is perhaps a far better indicator of
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‘dangerous’ climate change than ‘food production’ as mentioned in Article 2. For this
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reason the possible impacts of climate change on food security in the Pacific islands
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should be considered.
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In the Pacific islands at present the situation with respect to food security is not as
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serious as in parts of South Asia and Africa, in large part because poverty is generally
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not as acute. There are problems with micronutrient deficiencies in many communities
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where access to an adequate range of healthy foods is restricted by either local growing
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conditions or the types and costs of foods available on the market. A part of the problem
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here is that penetration of local markets by imported foods has resulted in the
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importation of cheap, poor quality foods of little nutritional value. This results in
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increasing rates of non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart
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disease.
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However, there are signs that food insecurity may increase in the future (Sharma 2006;
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Bell et al. 2009), and, when considering the possible impacts of climate change in the
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region, an increase in food insecurity is a distinct possibility. Climate change may
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negatively impact on each of the broad determinants of food security – namely food
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production, economic growth and poverty, and health.
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Bell et al. (2009) posit that the current dependence on fish by many Pacific
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communities leaves them vulnerable to food insecurity in the future. The coastal
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fisheries available in most states do not currently have the capacity to provide more fish
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to meet the needs of future population growth and urban migration, and so rural fish
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consumption will decline as population increases. The risk of overfishing may be
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increased by pressure on rural communities to use their resources for income generation
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as well as subsistence. In conjunction with changes to the availability of fish as a result
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of climate change, there is an urgent need for the diversification of supply in order to
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make rural communities more resilient to climate change and extreme events, and help
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rebuild overexploited fisheries resources.
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Across the region there has been in the last ten years a decline in per capita food
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production and an increase in dependence on imported foods (Sharma 2006). In all
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countries almost all cereals are imported and imports of cereals have steadily increased
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since 1991, exports of food products have decreased, and trade deficits have increased
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(Sharma 2006). Declining per capita food production is a function of: population
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growth; insufficient private and public investment in agricultural production; limitations
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on production due to water scarcity and effective scarcity of land (due to absolute
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shortages, or insecurity of tenure discouraging capital investment); increasing costs of
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inputs relative to the value of production; disasters; and rural to urban migration. Total
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food availability in the Pacific islands, then, is increasingly becoming a function of the
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ability to pay for food imports.
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The ability to pay for food imports at an aggregate level is a function of national
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income, and so assessing the impacts of climate change on food security in part involves
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assessing its impacts on the ability of Pacific Islands countries to pay for food imports
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as populations grow. The impacts of climate change in labor markets in New Zealand,
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Australia and the United States could adversely affect countries which are dependent on
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remittances, but the impacts are highly uncertain. At least for those Pacific Islanders
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working in agriculture and agriculture-dependent industries there may be grounds for
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concern as these industries in donor countries may also be impacted by climate change.
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Nevertheless, the assumed higher capacity to adapt to climate change in the developed
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donor countries would seem to insulate the Pacific islands against declines in
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remittances due to climate change.
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For those island countries that are heavily dependent on aid, the impacts of climate
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change on the capacity of donors to sustain aid flows, and the motives for those flows,
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is also important. In general aid to the countries in the region is delivered for numerous
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reasons varying from country to country, including for strategic, historical,
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constitutional, economic, and humanitarian reasons. Assessing the impacts of climate
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change on these kinds of flows is beyond the scope of this chapter, however we might
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surmise that the strategic and historical/constitutional reasons for giving aid are
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relatively independent of the effects of climate change. Economic reasons may change
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depending on the distribution of economic impacts within and among donor countries,
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and that aid for humanitarian reasons may increase as climate change results in more
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damages due to disasters and increasing poverty.
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This discussion of aid flows and remittances and their likely changes is simplistic and
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uncertain, but it does go to show that some of the more important factors in the
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economic impacts of climate change in many Pacific island countries concern changes
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outside of those countries, and that climate change may have little impact on the ability
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of those countries that are dependent on aid and remittances to purchase food imports.
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Yet this tentative conclusion assumes that these extra-territorial flows will increase as
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demand for them increases due to population growth, rising expectations, and increasing
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costs due to damages caused by climate change.
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There may be some significant costs to island economies due to climate change. For
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example, the World Bank (2001) estimates that by 2050 damages from climate change
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could cost Tarawa atoll in Kiribati US$ 8-16 million, or 17-34% of current GDP.
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Another study estimates that the economic impacts of climate change on Pacific Island
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economies may be “so profound that they dwarf any strategic issue currently
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confronting a major peacetime economy” (Hoegh-Guldberg and Greenpeace Australia
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Pacific 2000). Those disasters such as cyclones and droughts already have significant
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costs suggest that increases in their intensity or frequency in the future will place further
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demands at both donor and household-level to substitute for lost crops, income,
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infrastructure, and housing.
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The region’s other main source of income, aside from agriculture, fisheries, aid, and
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remittances, is tourism. Tourism, too, is sensitive to climate change. Impacts on tourism
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have yet to be seriously examined, but it is believed that the industry may be affected
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directly, for example, through the loss of beaches, and indirectly, for example through
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milder winters in traditional markets reducing the motivation to take vacations abroad
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(Becken 2005). Extreme events will also be increasingly costly for tourism
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infrastructure, and may dampen demand for travel to the Pacific islands. Potential
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tourists may fear for their safety. If climate change results in the spread of malaria and
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dengue fever to tourist dependent countries such as the Cook Islands, Palau and Fiji,
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then this too may decrease demand as tourists may seek alternative holiday destinations.
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Rising airfares due to increasing fuel costs associated with potential policy measures to
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implement the Kyoto Protocol and post-Kyoto agreements, coupled with increasing
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scarcity of jet fuel, may also undermine demand for tourism.
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So, some of the region’s main forms of income generation – agriculture, fisheries, and
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tourism – are likely to be adversely effected by climate change. It follows then that
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employment in these sectors may also suffer, either through long-term contraction in the
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number of jobs, short-term fluctuations and/or increasing casualization of jobs in
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response to increasing variability in production, or through downward pressure on
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wages as employment opportunities decrease and demand for jobs grows due to
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population growth. The impacts of climate change on these key sectors may also have
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other important secondary effects. For instance, not only farmers’ livelihoods are at risk
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from climate change, but also those whose livelihoods depend on agricultural
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production, such as input, transport, information and credit suppliers. Impacts in one
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sector may, in turn, impact on others. For example, declining incomes from agriculture
425
may cause migration to urban areas, increasing urban poverty and placing increasing
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demand on urban services such as running water, disease prevention programs, and
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health care. If climate change results in economic contraction and increasing
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unemployment, then the ability of States to provide these services may also weaken,
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further exacerbating poverty and food insecurity.
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Thus, through its impacts on agriculture, fisheries and tourism, climate change may
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increase levels of chronic and transitory poverty, and, subsequently, decrease the ability
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of households to purchase food. This, coupled with potential impacts on household food
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production for subsistence purposes, suggests that not only may per capita food
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availability contract due to the combined effects of climate change on domestic
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production and the ability to pay for food imports, so too may the ability of people to
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access food.
438
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Finally, it is important to consider the impacts of climate change on health as this too
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affects food security. In most countries of the region people are relatively healthy
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compared to other developing regions of the world. Nevertheless there are problems of
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undernutrition in parts of Melanesia, and in some of the more remote islands in a
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number of countries. Malaria is a major cause of illness in Melanesia, and across the
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region outbreaks of dengue fever occur. Disasters also cause injury and loss of life, and
445
10
there are problems of diarrhea and other water borne diseases such as cholera in a
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number of islands and in urban areas. Incidences of Ciguatera (fish poisoning) appear to
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be increasing. Climate change may extend the spread of malaria and dengue fever as the
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factors that encourage the breeding of the mosquitoes that carry these diseases are
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influenced by climate. Warming in Papua New Guinea, for example, is likely to cause a
450
contraction of the cooler malaria free zone in the highlands. There are also demonstrated
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positive associations between temperature increases and diarrhea, and between warmer
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sea-surface temperatures and Ciguatera outbreaks (Singh et al. 2001; Hales et al. 1999).
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Heat stress, increased injuries, and deaths from extreme events are also likely to result.
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Finally, the health services in most Pacific Island countries are ill-equipped and already
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struggling to cope with existing health problems. They are, therefore, unlikely to be able
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to adequately respond to the increased health burden of climate change.
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Many rural Pacific islanders are simultaneously engaged in some sale of products or
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labour for cash, as well as gardening or fishing to meet a proportion of their own food
460
needs. In some cases hunting is also undertaken (Meleisea 1996). This confers some
461
degree of food security, as it means one or two of these activities can still meet basic
462
food needs. This diversity of livelihood strategies in part explains why in even the
463
poorest communities severe disasters do not result in mass mortality. The risk to food
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security is that climate change may cause chronic and or sporadic contractions in the
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food people access through agriculture, fisheries, and the market, creating in turn
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chronic and transitory food problems. These problems of access, coupled with possible
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increases in illness due to climate change, mean that climate change poses real risks to
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food security in the region.
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Conclusion
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To determine what kinds of climate impacts may be ‘dangerous’ is a question of values.
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Different societies value different things, and the degradation or loss of things that are
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most valued to a society can rightfully be called ‘dangerous’. The problem for a global
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convention such as the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change is
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that this diversity of values means that it is exceedingly difficult to find a common
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metric of ‘danger’ to which all Parties agree. The problem is akin to the problem of
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human rights, where some rights are to some extent culturally specific, but where it is
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accepted in principle that there are universal ‘basic’ rights – such as freedom from
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torture (Shue 1980). In this vein, there may be some universal ‘dangers’ as well. In
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terms of the three sectors specified in Article 2 of the UNFCCC, damage to ecosystems
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may not be a concern of all people, nor even may ‘food production’ or ‘economic
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development’ as these are larger system conditions that people may or not may not
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identify as being valuable. Yet it is a reasonable proposition that all people value the
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choice of having enough to eat – and so food security perhaps offers a useful and near
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universal basis upon which to assess ‘dangerous’ climate change.
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Given this, climate change is dangerous to the Pacific islands. It seems likely to impact
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on agricultural production for both subsistence and commercial purposes, undermining
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both local availability of food as well as the ability of people and societies to purchase
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food. The impacts on production may be both long-term declines, as well as short-term
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variations. The other major sector of food production in the region is fisheries, which,
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like agriculture, supports domestic consumption as well as domestic and international
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trade. Climate change may also have negative impacts on fisheries, although the nature
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of change may be less one of mean declines in abundance, but rather increasing
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variability of supply. Thus, even considering the criteria of food production, climate
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11
change is dangerous to the Pacific islands. Yet it is the compounding effects on the
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systems that determine food security in the region and thus the larger cause for concern.
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Through its impacts on production, the ability of countries to import food and the ability
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of households to purchase food, and human health, climate change puts at risk the very
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basic and universal need for people in the islands to have access to sufficient, safe and
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nutritious food at all times.
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Acknowledgements
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This research was supported by Australian Research Council Grant FT120100208
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... more food by 2050 (FAO, 2017). In the PICTs, climate change is already putting strains on fisheries, health, agriculture, food security, and economic development (Barnett, 2020: McCubbin et al., 2015IPCC, 2019;Klöck and Fink, 2019). Climate change has also directly or indirectly threatened the workforce. ...
... This can influence livelihoods and will likely worsen in the future. Climate hazards are becoming more intense and frequent, posing a serious threat to PICTs and having direct consequences for already vulnerable states (Barnett, 2020). Climate-related extreme events can jeopardize the stability of local food systems in PICTs, where rural communities rely on subsistence farming. ...
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... While significant research has been undertaken on islands that consider: island ecology, island politics, climate change adaptation and economic development in islands (some examples include Gorman, 1979;Corbett and Ng Shiu, 2014;Jayaraman, Choong and Chand, 2016;Barnett, 2020), not all of this explicitly takes into account the interface between climate change, ecology, politics and economy. As with other climatic hotspots, this has resulted in studies that focus either on the changing environment or the politics of decision-making, but fewer studies that focus on how power relationships affect the ways in which different people use the environment, and how power and the environment affect economic drivers of environmental change. ...
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... Ocean warming will likely cause a continued decline in reef health, leading to a change in coral species composition, habitat loss and an up to 90% reduction of live coral cover by 2100 [112,117]. Climate change and a higher number of extreme weather events may also affect the food supply from agriculture and fisheries by reducing the food system's ability to recover, threatening subsistence agriculture, food security and, in the end, local livelihoods [118]. ...
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This book provides a wide-ranging comparative analysis of contemporary economic, social, political and environmental change in small islands, island states and territories, through every ocean. It focuses on those island realms conventionally perceived as developing, rather than developed, in the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Oceans.
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