Current Forecast: Palua and a Changing Climate
Palau’s future depends on its ability to preserve its biodiversity in the face of warming oceans, changing rainfall patterns and rising seas.
• The country, in brief. The Republic of Palau consists of 586 coralline and volcanic islands of the Caroline Island Group, only 12 of which are continuously inhabited. There are about 18,000 inhabitants. About 25 per cent of Palau’s landmass is less than ten metres above sea level. Tourism, subsistence agriculture and fishing are the main drivers of the Palauan economy. Tourist activity revolves around scuba diving and snorkelling in Palau’s rich marine environment, which includes barrier reefs and World War II wrecks.
Palau has exceptional biological diversity for such a small nation. It has one of the largest tropical rain forests in Micronesia as well as mangrove forests, seagrass beds, fringing reefs, patch reefs, barrier reefs and marine lakes.
• Warming seas threaten the tourism-based economy. Damage to the environment such as coral bleaching could adversely affect the tourist industry that drives the economy. Palau experienced an extreme coral-bleaching event in 1997-98 due to warming seas. Approximately one-third of Palau’s corals died, with coral mortality as high as 90 per cent in some areas. Increases in ocean temperatures may alter the migratory patterns of fish populations in Palau’s waters, which would adversely affecting the fishing industry.
• Sea-level rise threatens agriculture and settled areas. Much of Palau is 9 metres (30 feet) above sea level, which is well above projections for sea-level rise, but the higher ground is not well suited for habitation and economic activity because it is hilly and thickly forested. Most Palauans live and work in the country’s coastal lowlands. Adaptation options include the cultivation of salt-tolerant root crops and foreshore revegetation.
• Changes in rainfall could reduce supply of fresh water. Although rainfall in Palau is plentiful, increasing atmospheric temperatures and saltwater inundation as a result of climate change may threaten freshwater supplies. Palau historically has distinct wet and dry seasons, but those seasons have become less marked as storms hit in what were traditionally drier months, and dry periods can occur when rain is usually expected. Typhoons and other severe storms have caused damage to local infrastructure and fisheries, and an increase in storm frequency associated with climate change could pose a significant threat to Palau in the future.
• Protecting Palau’s precious biodiversity. Palau has taken strong measures to protect coastal and marine resources, including assessing access fees and placing limits on numbers of visitors to frequented areas. It has also placed a moratorium on the clearing of mangroves and has developed protected marine areas to preserve fisheries habitat and resources.
•For the full country profile, visit the Palau’s page on the Pacific Climate Change Portal.
Focusing the entire nation on adaptation, resiliency and mitigation. Palau’s climate-change policy is focused squarely on adaptation, disaster preparedness and building resiliency. It is a single integrated government policy established at the highest political level, with mechanisms in place that will allow the government to establish the institutional frameworks and infrastructure needed to ensure that adaptation and resiliency are built into all government planning and programmes. It guides national budgeting and government spending in relation to climate change alone and as a part of economic development.
Palau has also committed to halve its carbon emissions by 2025, largely through the use of renewables, and has declared 80 per cent of its exclusive economic zone a no-take zone, meaning that no commercial fishing will be allowed in 500, 000 square kilometres of ocean. President Remengesau told delegates at COP21 in Paris that such a large marine protected area—or carbon sink—allows for marine diversity to recover and for fish stocks to rebound, providing spillover benefits for our oceans and for our world.
Palau is one of 43 nations in the Climate Vulnerable Forum and has been a vocal proponent in limiting temperature rise from global warming to 1.5° Celsius. The Paris Agreement on Climate Change seeks to limit temperature rise to 2° Celsius.