Posts Tagged ‘pacific’

Photo: Wikimedia.
Devastation on the island nation Vanuatu (near Australia) after Cyclone Pam in March 2015. Vanuatu is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. Already this year it was hit by two Category 4 cyclones, blamed on global warming.

Today’s story by Michael Birnbaum at the Washington Post could be subtitled The Mouse That Roared. That’s because a tiny nation vulnerable to climate change is pushing the world’s highest court to take a stand.

“The small Pacific island nation of Vanuatu won a major victory to advance international climate law [in March] after it persuaded the U.N. General Assembly to ask the world’s highest international court to rule on the obligations of countries to address climate change.

“The request for an advisory ruling from the International Court of Justice is expected to clarify the legal obligations of countries to address climate change — and to create a path for them to be sued if they fail to do so. The U.N. effort was a significant outcome for Vanuatu, an archipelago nation of 320,000 people that is suffering from climate-change-driven natural disasters. In recent weeks, it was hit by two Category 4 cyclones, the severity of which its leaders blamed on global warming. Thousands of people are still living in shelters.

“The country has used its moral authority and ability to stage action at the United Nations to achieve outsize results on climate issues. The U.N. General Assembly approved the measure by acclamation, with neither the United States nor China standing in the way of the effort despite uncertainty in advance whether they would seek a formal up-or-down vote.

“[The] decision was also a measure of how much global attitudes about the urgency of addressing climate change have shifted in recent years. A similar effort in 2011 by two other island nations, Palau and the Marshall Islands, failed at the United Nations. This time, Vanuatu obtained co-sponsorship from more than 120 countries, including Britain, France, Germany and other industrialized nations with a long history of high emissions.

“ ‘It is a matter of basic survival for us,’ Vanuatu Climate Change Minister Ralph Regenvanu said in an interview.

‘We can’t do anything economically and politically because we don’t have any power. What we can use is our sovereignty as a United Nations member state.’ …

“Having the International Court of Justice weigh in creates a ‘pretty clear pathway to recognizing that states have a duty not only not to violate fundamental human rights, but states have a duty to avoid transboundary harm through activities under their control,’ said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, a D.C.-based nonprofit that works to use international law to address ecological issues.

“He compared an advisory ruling to consulting a lawyer while being engaged in behavior that falls in a legal gray zone.

“ ‘It’s like when you send a note to your lawyer, and you get a lawyer’s note back saying what you’re doing is illegal,’ he said. ‘It puts you on notice that you could be held accountable for your actions.’ …

“As Vanuatu gained support for the U.N. action, it was careful to try to build consensus, with its leaders saying they are not suing anyone nor seeking to create new international obligations. Instead, they say, they are seeking to clarify how preexisting international agreements apply to climate change. …

“Neither the United States, which is the world’s largest historical emitter, nor China — which is soon poised to overtake the United States on that count — opposed the measure. The two superpowers have been competing for influence among Pacific island nations as they seek to project power across that ocean, giving the small countries outsize leverage despite their minuscule economies and populations.

“But even as the United States stood aside and allowed the referral to be approved without objection, a U.S. diplomat also said the Biden administration believes diplomacy is a better way to achieve action on climate issues than inside a courtroom.

” ‘Launching a judicial process, especially given the broad scope of the questions, will likely accentuate disagreements and not be conducive to advancing our ongoing diplomatic and other processes. In light of these concerns, the United States disagrees that this initiative is the best approach for achieving our shared goals,’ diplomat Nicholas Hill told the General Assembly after the measure was approved, speaking on behalf of the State Department.

“Vanuatu’s policymakers said they had tried to craft their work in a way that would win broad acceptance.

“ ‘We have deliberately tried to make this as noncontentious as possible,’ Regenvanu said. ‘Once we get the question before the court, then the process of submissions begins, and there might be a slight change of tactic there. Because obviously we want the highest level ambition in that opinion.’

“The effort began four years ago in a classroom at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. Law students there decided that an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice could be an effective tool to advance climate justice. They worked to convince their governments to follow suit.

“Vanuatu has also promoted a global fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty, advocating a total phaseout of oil, coal and gas as quickly as possible. And it has been a leader on international efforts to create a system to compensate the worst-hit countries for ‘loss and damage’ from climate change.”

More at the Post, here.

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Although I didn’t get to see it in person, I was excited to learn from Timmons Roberts by way of Erik that the indigenous Hawaiian canoe Hōkūleʻa was making a stop in Rhode Island.

Lars Trodson writes at the Block Island Times, “The island welcomed the crew of the Polynesian catamaran Hōkūle‘a [June 21] at a ceremony held at the Block Island Maritime Center in New Harbor. The crew was greeted with songs sung by the students from the Block Island School, as well as greetings and tribal gifts from Loren Spears, an educator and former Council Member of the Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island. Capt. Kalepa Baybayan of the Hōkūle‘a also offered brief remarks.

“The Hōkūle‘a is traveling around the world to teach about ocean conservation. ‘We live on a blue planet,’said capt. Baybayan. ‘Without the blue there would be no green.’ …

“Block Island is the Hōkūle‘a’s  only stop in Rhode Island.”

From the Hōkūleʻa website: “Our Polynesian voyaging canoes, Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia, are traveling over 60,000 nautical miles around the earth, bringing people around the world together to set a course for a sustainable future.

“We are sailing like our ancestors have for a thousand years—using wayfinding. On board, there is no compass, sextant, or cellphone, watch, or GPS for direction. In wayfinding, the sun, moon, and stars are a map that surrounds the navigators. When clouds and storms make it impossible to see that map, wave patterns, currents, and animal behavior give a navigator directional clues to find tiny islands in the vast ocean. …

“Everyone can be the navigator our earth needs. Every person on earth can help navigate us to a healthy future where our Island Earth is safe and thriving again. …

“We are asking kids, families, governments, communities, and businesses to share how they mālama honua—take care of our Island Earth.  Please visit our Mālama Honua map, and help us grow the movement by adding stories of hope that can inspire and educate us all. …

“Hōkūleʻa, our Star of Gladness, began as a dream of reviving the legacy of exploration, courage, and ingenuity that brought the first Polynesians to the archipelago of Hawaiʻi. The canoes that brought the first Hawaiians to their island home had disappeared from earth. Cultural extinction felt dangerously close to many Hawaiians when artist Herb Kane dreamed of rebuilding a double-hulled sailing canoe similar to the ones that his ancestors sailed.

“Though more than 600 years had passed since the last of these canoes had been seen, this dream brought together people of diverse backgrounds and professions. Since she was first built and launched in the 1970s, Hōkūle’a continues to bring people together from all walks of life. She is more than a voyaging canoe—she represents the common desire shared by the people of Hawaii, the Pacific, and the World to protect our most cherished values and places from disappearing.”

Lots more at www-dot-hokulea-dot-com.

Photo: Block Island Times

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What is going on with the oceans? Warming trends are bringing sea creatures further north and for longer periods.

In January, Oliver Milman reported at the Guardian about a sea snake with a suggestive name (“Why you yellow-bellied sea snake, you …!”) that has suddenly shown up in California.

“California beachgoers have been urged to steer clear of a species of highly venomous sea snake following a third, and unprecedented, instance of an aquatic serpent washing up on to the state’s beaches.

“A 20-inch yellow-bellied sea snake was discovered on a beach near San Diego … The sighting was the third reported instance since October of the species, which prefers the tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans, washing up on California’s beaches.

“The only previous verified sighting of a washed-up yellow-bellied sea snake was in 1972. Experts believe the snakes have ridden a warm current of water, fueled by the exceptionally strong El Niño climatic event, farther north than they have ever previously ventured. …

“ ‘It’s been an incredibly interesting year for southern California. We’ve seen tuna and marlin and tropical bird species such as red-footed boobies,’ said Greg Pauly, curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. …

“Yellow-bellied sea snakes are fully aquatic snakes capable of swimming vast distances. Although they are highly venomous, their targets are small fish and it’s thought they have yet to cause a recorded human death. However, Pauly said people should keep their distance if they encounter another washed-up snake.

“ ‘They are fairly docile and it’s unlikely for someone to be envenomated,’ he said. ‘It’s rare for them to bite people, it’s usually fishermen who are carelessly pulling up fishing nets.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Carolyn Larcombe/Wandiyali Images
Seen in California after el Niño, yellow-bellied sea snakes usually live in the deep waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans. 

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