By Parul Tewari:
Located in the far-far East, Cook Islands is a country that comprises of 15 islands in the South Pacific Ocean.
With a total population of 15,000, you might not think it’s big enough in size and power to make a difference in the fight against global warming, given how they are having to bear the brunt of climate change without hardly any contribution to the existing conditions. However, the country’s significant achievements in Adaptation Planning, are enough to put some of the most developed nations to shame.
Mark Brown, Pacific Island’s Finance Minister spoke at length about some of the unique initiatives at the 5th Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum in Colombo on October 18. While a lot of experts at the Forum were repeatedly highlighting the need for capacity building of the communities at the local level, the Cook Islands have largely built its capacity.
The journey hasn’t been very easy, though.
Spread over 240 sq. Km, the island country’s economy, rests heavily on its tourism sector. Each year, it contributes about 68% to its GDP. However, being surrounded by water on all sides makes it highly susceptible to the effects of global warming.
According to a study by the Australian Government, the sea levels have risen by almost 4 mm every year since 1993 near the Cook Islands. This might not sound much, but its almost double the rate in other places, as the global average sea level rise is between 2.8 to 3.6 mm per year.
Future projections for the islands point out to hotter days and more extreme rainfall.
Along with the annual sea level rise, this spells serious trouble with greater chances of flooding. Climate Adaptation in such a scenario becomes a necessity. “We are at the forefront of risks from climate change,” said Brown.
Although the country has almost zero contributions to this environmental crisis, the impacts are pretty hard for them to bear.
“Our carbon emissions are less than 1%. If there is a forest fire, our contribution is that of the tiniest match,” added Brown.
To their credit, they are well on track when it comes to development planning and integrating them into their adaptation plans. And they are now trying to come up with unique, indigenous solutions to these complex problems.
One such example is of adopting new agricultural practices which prepare them to avoid damages from unseasonal rainfall. The introduction of resistant seeds to avoid crop failure is one of the ways in which they’re doing it.
The government has also provided a wider market for some of the smaller communities by giving them access to storage and transportation facilities. Although this experiment was carried out on a small group of people on one of the islands, its success has created a massive ripple effect which has led to the replication of this simple solution at a wider scale.
If a small country can achieve so much despite limited resources, one can’t help but wonder what a country like India could do, if only the leadership at the centre had more political will to protect the environment.