Collaborative research highlights impacts of climate change in the Pacific

4 October 2017

What is left of Walande Island after rising sea levels and severe storms.

With material from a Melanesian Mission press release.

Solomon Islanders are highlighting the impact of climate change on their nation in collaborative research with the University of Southampton in the UK and Melanesian Mission.

A recent visit to the UK by church members from the Solomon Islands brought together the scientific research of the University with the first-hand accounts of community members, who are facing daily battles relating to climate change impacts.

The Archbishop of Melanesia, George Takeli, called for urgent action. He said, “I have come to the UK to share the plight of people in the Pacific suffering from the impacts of climate change. Many are having to abandon their homes, villages and islands due to increasing sea levels, unpredictable weather patterns and increased air temperature.

“Many communities are struggling to adapt to these changes, with limited relocation options, resources or support. As a region with a relatively low carbon footprint, we seem to be paying a heavy price for rest of the world’s over development and wastefulness.”

Dr Ivan Haigh, Associate Professor at the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton, has been assessing the impacts of climate change, in particular the destruction of entire islands by rising sea levels and extreme weather events.

Five islands in the Solomon Island chain have already completely disappeared, forcing families to relocate to other islands where they may face tribal conflicts. Dr Haigh said, “Sea-level rise is one of the most certain consequences of climate change and, along with other climate-related changes, will impact the Solomon Islands, and other Small Island Developing States, harder than almost anywhere on earth.”

For example Walande Island once had 1200 inhabitants, but rising sea levels and extreme weather has meant only 4 inhabitants remain. This video, made with the Melanesian Mission, shows the island in 2002, and again in 2016, to explain the effects that climate change is already having on our world.

Dr Haigh explains, “Sea levels in the South Pacific are currently rising at three times the global average but we are also seeing further changes to storm surges and waves, as a result of variations in weather patterns. The combination of these factors and many others is having a life-changing impact on several communities across the Solomon Islands.

He continued, “On Ontong Java, around 4,000 people are currently being forced to abandon their homes to be resettled elsewhere. Here, climate change has seen crops reduce from three to just one per year. It is simply too hot to grow enough food to sustain the population and in the future, it is likely that fresh water supplies will be severely impacted by salt water intrusion.”

The Anglican Alliance are joining the call for climate justice and pointing the Anglican Communion to the Renew Our World campaign, which is a global movement of Christians praying, living and campaigning to make the world fair and sustainable.