Widespread climatic changes already occurring in WCPO

Global heating and climate change are creating widespread changes in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). Many of these changes interact with each other.

Some of the changes that affect the tuna fisheries of the WCPO are:

  • the temperature of the surface layer of ocean water is rising
  • the ocean is becoming more acidic
  • sea levels are rising
  • storms, floods, and cyclones are becoming more intense
  • rain patterns are shifting, and the amount of rain that falls is changing.

Small states work to protect boundaries as sea levels rise 

Rising sea levels are a huge problem for the small island developing states (SIDS) of the WCPO. Many of these small nations are made up of low-lying islands surrounded by coral reefs. They are already losing land, which is disappearing under higher seas.

The change in coastlines may affect their exclusive economic zones (EEZs). The boundaries of EEZs were fixed under the terms of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the SIDS want to ensure these boundaries are kept even if their land masses shrink. This is important for their economies, because they control the fishing grounds inside their EEZs.

The security of their international boundaries is so important it is formalised in many regional and sub-regional agreements. The Pacific Island Forum (PIF) countries state in the Kainaki II Declaration refers to the UNCLOS EEZ provisions (clause 14 of Annex 1) that they:

aim to ensure that once a Forum Member’s maritime zones are delineated in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), that the Member’s maritime zones could not be challenged or reduced as a result of sea level rise and climate change.

One of the six strategic areas of the Boe Declaration Action Plan is climate security. This also calls on EEZ boundaries to be protected.

The Kainaki II Declaration ‘is the first time the Pacific Islands Forum has agreed and declared that there is a “climate change crisis” facing the Pacific Island nations’. Clauses 17–20 of the Kainaki II Declaration outline the members call for ‘urgent, transformational’ action to address global climate change.

Two young people of Tebikenikora village, Kiribati, walk along sand. Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
Locals in Tebikenikora village, Kiribati … the people of low-lying islands like this one are concerned about rising sea levels and other effects of climate change. Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).