The United Nations and Samoa plan to establish an Inter-Agency Climate Change Centre to help coordinate support to Pacific Island countries to combat the impact of global warming in their region. Given the direct impact of climate change on vulnerable countries in the region, the new agency will focus its support on the mitigation, adaptation and reduction of the risk of disaster facing the Islands, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said today in a message to the Pacific Islands Forum Summit meeting, held in Alofi, Niue.
"I am very heartened that the Pacific island countries are making their voices heard on the subject of climate change," Ban said. "Climate change is not science fiction. As your countries know all too well, it is real and present." The main theme of this year's summit is climate change, as the effect of global warming is a threat to food security and safety of island communities. Several UN agencies already collaborate with the Pacific Islands Forum, assisting on issues from farming and fisheries to urbanization.
The report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that Earth's rising temperature will have serious consequences for the hundreds of millions of people who depend on fishing for their livelihoods, as many people do in the Pacific Island countries. It documents how changes in sea temperatures alter the body temperature of aquatic species. Warmer waters adversely impact the metabolism, growth rate, reproduction and susceptibility to diseases and toxins of these fish and shell fish.
Warmer water species are now increasing toward the South and North Poles, the report states. There also has been an increase in salinity in near-surface waters in hotter regions. The opposite is occurring in colder areas because of greater precipitation and melting ice. In addition, the oceans are becoming more acidic with negative consequences for coral reefs and organisms that form calcium shells.
Fishing communities in the world's high-latitudes, as well as those that rely on coral reef systems such as the Pacific Islands, will be most exposed to the impact of climate change, the FAO predicts. Fisheries located in deltas, coral atolls and ice-dominated coasts will be vulnerable to flooding and coastal erosion because of rises in sea level.
The UN says about 42 million people work directly in the fishing sector, most of them in developing countries. Adding those who work in fish processing, supply, marketing and distribution, the fishing industry supports several hundred million jobs worldwide.
Aquatic foods have high nutritional quality, contributing 20 percent or more of average per capita animal protein intake for more than 2.8 billion people, again mostly in developing countries. Fish is also the world's most widely traded food, the UN says, and is a key source of export earnings for many poorer countries. These issues have particular significance for Pacific small island States.