Forecast to be underwater by 2050, the Pacific island states must plan for climate adaptation, with global support, urges Crispin Maslog.
An innocuous story in the ocean of online news recently caught my attention. It said that an entire Pacific island nation was considering an unusual back-up plan for survival: moving its entire population to another country.
The nation is Kiribati, thousands of miles northeast of Papua New Guinea in the south Pacific. Kiribati president Anote Tong told the Associated Press in March that his cabinet, fearing climate change could wipe out their archipelago, had approved a plan to buy nearly 6,000 acres on Fiji's main island, Viti Levu.
Some or all of Kiribati's population of 103,000 could move there when their islands are submerged — in a matter of decades, according to current forecasts. The nation straddles the equator near the International Date Line and many of its coral atolls rise just a few feet above sea level.
For the Kiribati people, moving won't be a matter of choice but of survival, said president Tong. Sea water is contaminating underground freshwater resources more often, while rainfall, storm and tidal patterns are changing.
Other unusual options that Kiribati is considering to mitigate the impact of climate change include shoring up some islands with sea walls, and even building a floating island, much like a giant oil platform anchored to an atoll.
Kiribati's plight dramatises a growing climate change crisis in the island nations of the Pacific and other archipelagos of the world.
According to UN forecasts, Kiribati and neighbouring Tuvalu, as well as the Marshall Islands, may be completely inundated by the rising waters of the Pacific by 2050.
And a new report by the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology on climate change in the Pacific Ocean says the region is "getter hotter, sea levels are rising, rainfall is changing and equatorial winds have weakened. While cyclones may tend to decrease slightly in the future, cyclone intensity is likely to be greater." 
To their credit, the Pacific island countries and territories (PICTs) have pledged to make a token financial contribution towards global efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
But global climate change will occur regardless of future emissions, and adapting to the changes will be vital — and urgent for PICTs, where impacts are expected to be intense.
Funding for adaptation
The costs of responding to climate change can be astronomical. Although accurate estimates have not been finalised, they could easily amount to billions of dollars. Where will the money come from?
There is a range of funding sources available to support climate change adaptation initiatives in the region, from foundations and philanthropists to public donations.
Funds administered by the UN Global Environment Facility (GEF) include the GEF-Pacific Alliance for Sustainability Fund, the Least Developed Countries Fund, and the Special Climate Change Fund. Funds from these facilities are in excess of US$21 billion, but they are not exclusively for the Pacific.
There is also the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience, which is part of the Strategic Climate Fund, a multi-donor trust fund with resources of US$975 million.
But regardless of where the money comes from, it will not be enough. These island states need to set priorities.
As early as 2006, 23 PICTs approved a framework for action on climate change and agreed that dealing with the impacts of climate change requires an "integrated, multi-stakeholder approach, a programmatic approach rather than an increase in stand-alone project initiatives…A high priority is the need to develop community-centred activities." 
This approach was endorsed in May 2011, when the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre agreed to draft a regional framework for capacity building and establish networks to examine common challenges. 
Now the challenge is to implement them effectively, and to take a long-term view on planning for adaptation and resource management.
The clock is ticking for these Pacific island countries as they face their uncertain future. The world must rally to their side because their entire cultures, their way of life and their lives are at stake.
Crispin Maslog is a Manila-based consultant for the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication. A former journalist, professor and environmental activist, he worked for the Press Foundation of Asia and the International Rice Research Institute.