Fiji, shifting villages flooded by rising seas, want big emitters to pay

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SERUA, Fiji, Aug 2 (Reuters) – Boats moor next to lounges on Fiji’s Serua Island, where water broke through the sea wall at high tide, inundating the village. Planks of wood stretch between some houses, forming a makeshift walkway as salt water floods the gardens.

The village elders always believed they would die here on prized land where their leaders are buried.

But as the community lacks the means to adapt to the rising Pacific Ocean, the 80 villagers are faced with the painful decision to move.

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Semisi Madanawa, raising three children who wade through playgrounds, says given flooding, erosion and exposure to extreme weather, the village may have to relocate to the main island of Fiji to ensure a future for the next generation.

Village elders are resisting, wondering if land reclamation could prevent the sea from taking away Serua Island’s ancestral homes and burial grounds, he says.

“It takes time for an idea to settle in the heart of us human beings so that we can accept the changes that are coming,” says Madanawa, 38. “Climate change is happening and we have to make a decision.”

Serua Island is one of many coastal villages making tough decisions about their future, seeking government help with costly adaptation or relocation projects, Fijian government officials said.

Leaders from 15 low-lying Pacific island nations said climate change was their “greatest existential threat” at a mid-July summit in Fiji’s capital, Suva. Read more

Faced with some of the most direct effects of climate change, they want the developed countries, which have contributed the most to global warming, not only to reduce their emissions, but to pay for the measures that islanders must take to protect their people from climate change. rising sea levels. The surge has become a key battle at United Nations climate conferences.

Building dykes, planting mangroves and improving drainage are no longer enough to save villages in many cases, says Shivanal Kumar, climate change adaptation specialist at Fiji’s Ministry of Economy.

“A lot of communities are in real crisis, they are trying to survive,” he says. “The impacts of climate change have been felt for many years and there came a time when they gave up and said now is the time to move on.”

The relocation aims to safeguard human rights by protecting people from rising seas, larger storm surges and more extreme cyclones, Kumar says.

But funds pledged by developed countries at UN climate conferences do not cover relocation, only adaptation, such as building a seawall, officials say.

At last year’s global climate conference, called COP26, developed countries agreed to continue talking about compensation for the inevitable impacts of climate change, including migration, suffered by vulnerable societies.

Pacific leaders at their summit called on developed countries to show meaningful progress at COP27 on a new goal – rapid funding for such “loss and damage”.

COP26 President, British politician Alok Sharma, said in Suva on Wednesday that he understood the disappointment of Pacific villagers on the front lines of climate change.

“You are forced to deal with the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions generated largely by the largest emitting countries, which are far from here. This is not a crisis on your part,” he said. he said in a speech.

“We’re going to have to find a way to have a substantive discussion on loss and damage at COP27.”

Fiji, an archipelago of hundreds of islands about 2,000 km (1,200 miles) north of New Zealand, in 2014 became the first Pacific island nation to relocate a community due to rising sea levels. the sea.

Six villages have relocated or plan to do so with government support, but a new process to prioritize the most urgent relocations is still under development.

Another 795 people will have to move, says young climate activist Salote Nasalo, who says she loses sleep thinking about where they can go. Pacific youth will continue to protest inaction on funding by big emitters, says Nasolo, a student at the University of the South Pacific.

The first community to relocate was Vunidogoloa, after villagers invited officials to see how they lived in knee-deep water. The salt water has destroyed the ability of the 150 residents to farm, taking away livelihoods and food security, says former village chief Sailosi Ramatu.

In the new village 1.5 km (1 mile) inland on the island of Vanua Levu, children are now sitting outside their homes, their dry feet firmly planted on the ground.

Ramatu, 63, says it took time to persuade the elders to leave, but the village came together and listened to the experts.

“We can also make a decision in the world if the leaders come together,” he says. “They should help us, they should pay for our losses and damages.”

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Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Suva and Loren Elliott in Serua; Written by Kirsty Needham; Editing by William Mallard

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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