PAULA BENNETT: The impact of climate change

Opinion 05/09/2017

OPINION: New Zealand is working hard to help Pacific countries face the impacts of climate change

Shortly, in the German city of Bonn, a powerful moment in world climate change politics is set to unfold.

Fiji will preside over the United Nations Climate Change Conference. It will be the first time a Pacific Island country has led this high-profile summit, which will build on the work of the historic 2015 Paris conference. Earlier this year I flew to Suva to talk with Pacific leaders and ministers about how the region can take climate action together.

Running these talks will be a major undertaking, so New Zealand is backing Fiji with a $1.3 million contribution to help make them a success. We’re doing so because we want the world to hear from a region that is uniquely vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Our support for Fiji is just one example of our much wider commitment to help countries threatened by climate change. In all, New Zealand is providing $200 million in climate-related support over the four years to 2019, mostly focused on the Pacific.

As Climate Change Minister I’ve seen first-hand how climate-related projects supported by the New Zealand Aid Programme are making a practical difference.

I’ve actually been on the ground in Kiribati and I know what difference new generators will make; how new solar energy systems will reduce diesel consumption; how rainwater harvesting systems will improve the delivery of water; and how water and sanitation systems in the two hospitals will save lives.

Pacific states are asking us for help with climate adaptation efforts – and we are responding. In some cases, that means literally increasing the land area of island states threatened by sea level rise. In Tuvalu, New Zealand’s $9.9 million project to fill in large pits, originally dug out by the US military during World War II, has increased the country’s usable land by 6 percent. 

Another pressing challenge is that shifting weather patterns linked to climate change are making it more difficult for people to secure regular access to water.  New Zealand has been working on a range of projects to help – from simple steps such as providing expertise on water conservation and planning, to funding new water storage and sanitation facilities in places like Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

Meanwhile, we are at the heart of a massive effort to increase renewable energy generation in the Pacific. Our climate-related support has included $120 million for such projects since 2013, with a further $100m announced last year. We’ve also co-hosted conferences with the European Union that mobilised more than $2 billion from a range of international donors for renewable energy projects in the region.

The results include New Zealand-backed solar energy projects built in Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, Samoa and the Solomon Islands and planned for Palau, the Republic of Marshall Islands and others.

In Tuvalu, new solar installations on all nine islands have seen the country’s proportion of renewable electricity generation leap from 4 to 43 per cent.

Better, cleaner energy sources mean reduced greenhouse gas emissions for Pacific Island countries so they can meet their own Paris commitments. They also mean more resilient infrastructure that can better withstand extreme weather events.

With all of this work, we are committed to responding to the priorities Pacific Island countries themselves have identified. We want to amplify their voice on bigger stages.

Fiji’s leadership role is a prominent, one-off example. But sometimes this work is not so public – as when we help small Pacific Island states navigate the complexities of development finance sources, such as the global Green Climate Fund. In December, our technical assistance helped Samoa secure a $78 million grant from the fund for a significant flood management project.

All of our climate work in Pacific countries springs from our close connections with the region – and our recognition that these countries are among those most acutely affected by climate change.

We share their goal of an ambitious global response to climate change that encourages all countries to take action, and we’re committed to playing our part in this effort. For example just last week we announced a $400,000 international scholarship to build the capability of scientists and technicians in developing countries.

Above all, we want Pacific Island countries to have a viable future – so we’re focused on doing effective work to help them get there, whether it is building a new solar plant, helping to unlock the door to large-scale aid funds, or backing them to take their case to global audiences.

Paula Bennett is the National Party spokesperson for Climate Change Issues.