July 22, 2011

Global Action Lived Locally: A Case Study from the United States of America

How Climate Change is affecting Small Pacific Islands

Sisters of Mercy and their friends and associates might wonder why MIA is dedicating much of its time to working on the issue of environment and climate change and why we are working towards influencing the Durban Conference on Climate Change later this year and the Rio + 20 UN conference in 2012 on sustainable development.

As we have indicated previously, we see climate change as being one of the major challenges facing the earth at present. It has no doubt contributed to the continued extreme weather variations in East Africa which has led to famine in the region. In this article Sister Trinie Pangelinan, a Mercy Sister in Guam explains how Climate Change is affecting the lives of people living in the Pacific islands and why it is vital that we act on the issue.

Guam is a small island of about 210 square miles in the western Pacific perched atop the world’s highest mountain chain bordering the Marianas Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. Guam is sometimes described as “typhoon alley” because tropical storms start in Chuuk, Federated States of Micronesia and end up in Guam and the Northern Marianas. Therefore, typhoons—also known as cyclones or hurricanes—are inevitable occurrences every so often. The last major typhoon to hit Guam was Super Typhoon Pongsona in 2002, although less serious tropical storms as recently as November 2009 threatened the island. However, the storms were “redirected”, sparing us while intensifying into a typhoon which ended up in the Philippines or Japan.

Although Guam is located in Micronesia, it does not belong to AOSIS—the Alliance of Small Island States—which started in 1990 as a diplomatic entity within the United Nations system to deal with environmental issues, including climate change “adaptation and mitigation.” However, its neighboring islands in the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands do belong to AOSIS. During the worldwide “Climate Change Action Day” on October 24, 2009, sponsored by “350.org”, these small island states were actively involved in climate change lobbying, even in Copenhagen where the delegate from Palau was interviewed. We on Guam, who were just getting on the “350” scene, sponsored a reforestation (tree planting) project on Climate Change Action Day and sponsored a Candlelight Vigil on December 12.

How does climate change affect the small island states and their people? The same way it affects larger entities, through “sea level rise, more frequent natural disasters, ocean acidification, and coral bleaching.” In February 2010, Mr. Lori Tan, a noted environmentalist and Chief Executive Officer of World Wildlife Fund – Philippines was invited to assess Guam’s potential impact from the effects of global warming. Speaking to the legislature and university students, Mr. Tan warned that climactic events such as El Nino and ocean warming will affect Guam and the reefs and marine resources. “Sea levels will also rise to about four to six meters and Guam’s waters will go further inland,” Tan said.

Another predicted impact is that Guam’s population will increase dramatically if AOSIS island residents relocate to Guam should rising waters overrun their islands. All in all, severe climate change will have disastrous results for these island peoples in the not-too-distant future. Therefore, the time to plan for “mitigation” is now!

Sister Trinie Pangelinan, a member of the South Central Community, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, resides on Guam. She also serves as a Justice Coordinator for the Guam Region.

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