Imagine 90% of the buildings in New Zealand destroyed or damaged and more than half the population left homeless. That's what happened in Vanuatu this week, as a result of the devastating Cyclone Pam. The President of Vanuatu and the UN Secretary General have already pointed out that climate change has made cyclones like Pam far more destructive, and climate scientists agree.
"Storms as strong as Cyclone Pam have become more likely due to climate change," explains Dr Christopher Brierley, Lecturer in Climate Modelling at University College London, and because sea levels have already risen – although not nearly as much as they will – there is more water in cyclone storm surges, which is what causes most of the damage. Low-lying Pacific islands like our neighbours are particularly vulnerable, as Pam shows.
“Now that Cyclone Pam has left, it's like a heat wave has hit us. Climate change is bringing new extremes to Vanuatu. It's devastating us.”
Those are the words of Isso Nihmei, 350 Vanuatu Coordinator, and these are the realities of being on the front lines of climate change and our Pacific neighbours are well aware of this. For decades, Vanuatu and other countries have argued that urgent international action was needed to prevent climate events like cyclone Pam. As World Bank vice president Rachel Kyte said this week, "I worry that a sense of urgency and a sense of shared ambition is not at the right level. If we truly care for those people, we have to respond. I think we have to hold ourselves accountable.”
While the New Zealand Government has donated between $12-14m in development aid to Vanuatu each year, much of what that helped build is now rubble and Vanuatu must start over. It's time for New Zealand to move beyond providing bandaids for the symptoms of climate change and instead take action to help ease the cause.
So please, let's all click to donate to the Red Cross or Oxfam to help. But before you shut down your computer tonight, take a moment to show our government that you do give a damn about climate change.
Experts have told us the three most important things the government needs to commit to are:
Get serious on mitigation targets by setting a legally binding and ambitious target for reducing New Zealand’s carbon pollution.
Get serious on consultation by running an open public consultation session between now and the Paris climate talks on our commitment to action on climate change
Get serious on climate finance by providing new and additional funding to contribute our fair share of the money needed for adaptation for countries like Vanuatu, Tuvalu and Kirabati.
Right now the government is deciding whether it will consult with the people of New Zealand about our country's position at the climate change talks in Paris this year. Their current proposal involves consultation with business groups and iwi, they considering how and if broader public consultation could happen. We think that your views, and the views of all New Zealanders are as important, and valid, as the views of businesses.
The risk is that the interests of New Zealand businesses will trump not only the long term interests of humankind and our planet, but also the urgent, short term needs of our Pacific neighbours.
The stakes couldn't be higher -- Tim Groser has been pushing for an agreement without any binding targets. If we allow this to happen, not only will New Zealand's international reputation be tarnished but we may be responsible for sabotaging a hard won chance to secure a safe future for the planet.
It’s going to require a major show of support for a binding agreement on climate change to change Tim’s position, but together if we make a strong call for real consultation with the people of New Zealand he’ll be forced to listen to our voices in the lead up to the Paris meeting this year.