Papua New Guinea
Current Forecast: Papua New Guinea and a Changing Climate
Rising sea levels and devastating King Tides wipe out crops, inundate water sources and destroy homes across Papua New Guinea. But for residents of Carteret Islands, Papua New Guinea’s six low-lying atolls, the shift in weather patterns presents an even greater threat: rising sea levels threaten the very existence of the islands.
Some 1,700 residents of Carteret Island’s total 2,500 inhabitants have been named the world’s first environmental refugees. It’s a preventive measure for a part of Papua New Guinea that was deemed uninhabitable by 2015 and predicted to be inundated by 2050.
Communities throughout Papua New Guinea face similar threats as they, too, confront the consequences of shifting weather patterns.
• The country, in brief. With a population of 7.1 million and a landmass spanning some 460 thousand square miles, Papua New Guinea is the largest nation in the Pacific Southwest. 85 percent of Papua New Guineans depend on subsistence agriculture. Almost half of the population lives on less than a $1 per day.
• Rising sea levels and destructive weather events have a serious impact, on land and at sea. The country’s surrounding sea levels have risen by 7 mm (0.28 inches) per year since 1993, more than double the global average. Cyclones are predicted to grow in intensity, albeit lessen in frequency; to date, the nation averages 15 cyclones every 10 years. Wind speed will increase by up to 11 per cent, with rainfall that will intensify by about 20 per cent by the end of the 21st century. At the same time, the country will continue to experience coastal and inland floods. 61 rivers maze through the East Sepik; a severe flood in this Papua New Guinea province could engulf up to 10 per cent of the land, jeopardising the lives of the more than 430,000 residents who call the area home. These extreme weather events will lead to the loss of the country’s wetlands, destroy the country’s fisheries, pollute clean water sources and heighten the risk, and spread, of water-borne diseases.
• Increasing temperatures, coupled with diminishing fresh water sources and persistent droughts, hamper agricultural processes at the cornerstone of the Papua New Guinean economy and the population’s livelihood. By 2030, the country’s temperature will increase by up to 1.1° Celsius (33.98° Fahrenheit) per year. Rising temperatures threaten to cut in half the production of staple root crops, such as sweet potatoes, over the next three decades. Elsewhere, residents and schools use rain tanks to collect drinking water. But with droughts occurring more frequently, these tanks run dry, and residents are often left with no fresh water. Many schools close early because they cannot provide students with clean water to drink.
• For the full country profile, visit the PNG’s page on the Pacific Climate Change Portal.
Carteret Islands: A Case Study
Four decades ago, the 3,000 residents of Carteret Islands depended on their own agricultural production to source the community’s food needs.
But rising sea levels and increased ferocity of floods routinely inundate the islands’ food gardens. Today, islanders rely on the Government to supply residents with food. Many schools have closed because they have little access to safe water and food.
These atolls sit roughly 1.5 metres (4 feet) above sea level, and storm surges and resulting land erosion and saltwater intrusion upset the basic security central to the islanders’ way of life.
Beginning in the 1980s, the Papua New Guinean Government began migrating families to the neighbouring island of Bougainville—but a civil war that broke out in 1989 halted the migration, leaving the remaining Carteret Islanders on land bearing the brunt of climate change.
Today, national policy focuses on resettling half of the islands’ population by 2020—a process that, from 2009 to 2019 is expected to cost up to $5.3 million. Mobilising financing across government, the private sector and international resources remains integral to finding the capital to protect this vulnerable population.
Activating for Adaptation
Despite the financial obstacles at hand, the country has activated national efforts to reduce carbon emissions and tap into sustainable adaptation measures.
Papua New Guinea maintains an ongoing conservation initiative to preserve its mangrove trees. Mangroves can withstand the change in salt levels left by the high tides, making the trees a natural barrier against coastal erosion and floods. The trees additionally provide safe habitat for marine life and, therefore, protects the livelihoods of those dependent on the country’s commercial fisheries.
Working alongside the United Nations Development Programme and Green Climate Fund, Papua New Guinea has spearheaded initiatives that provide authorities and residents the tools to make informed decisions about planning for and responding to coastal and inland floods. Data collection, coupled with information management and dissemination, allows Papua New Guinea to educate, alert and support its coastal and river communities before a flood strikes.
Moreover, Papua New Guinea’s climate and development plans strives to achieve a “no-regrets” climate change policy. Under these efforts, the nation has committed to investing in new water technologies to recycle water, as well as transition to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2050.
Papua New Guinea is one of 43 nations on the Climate Vulnerable Forum. The country ratified the Paris Climate Change Agreement in August 2016.