10/05/2022, 16.09
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Climate crisis and debt, the Pacific region asks for help

Caritas Oceania released a report on the feast day of Saint Francis (4 October), highlighting the impact of climate change and public debt on the region’s island nations. The latter call for high-income countries to help build the resilience needed to protect local communities. The current cost is at least a billion dollars a year, but less than half of that is provided.

Port Moresby (AsiaNews) – The Pacific region could experience unprecedented economic instability as a result of natural disasters induced by climate change combined with the debt crisis.

In view of the situation, Caritas Oceania and the Jubilee Australia Research Centre launched an appeal at a press conference during which they presented a report, their first, centred on the impact of the climate and financial crises on Pacific countries.

The region's islands are exposed to rising sea levels, increasingly strong and frequent cyclones, and tides that have a devastating environmental impact. Extreme weather events are forcing the small Pacific island nations to borrow to repair the damage, increasing their debt load.

The report, presented on 4 October, the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, is titled Twin clouds on the horizon: averting a combined climate and debt crisis in the Pacific through locally-delivered climate finance. In it, the international community is urged to settle the climate debt.

According to the document, the money must reach those who need it most; debt restructuring is also needed, improving climate finance, as well as subsidising resilience practices against environmental damage.

“We are at a very critical time in our fight for climate resilience, especially in the Pacific which is facing existential threats from climate change,” said Card Soane Patita Paini Mafi, Caritas Oceania regional president.

“The world’s challenge,” he added, “is to listen and see with attentive ears and eyes the struggle of those on the frontlines of climate change, and to have the courage to take action in solidarity.”

For Mavis Tito, director of Caritas Papua New Guinea, “Seven Pacific nations including PNG are already at risk of high debt distress. Look at what happened to Vanuatu, where public debt more than doubled after Cyclone Pam in 2015 due to the cost of repair and reconstruction.”

Overall, “We need sufficient climate finance to allow us to protect our communities from climate change without worsening our debt burden,” Tito explained.

Luke Fletcher agrees. As executive director at Jubilee Australia, he noted that “Climate finance is, at its heart, the repayment of a debt owed by countries that caused climate change to those that experience its worst effects. High-income countries have been shirking that debt for years.”

The report, whose recommendations will be included in the statement Pacific nations will present at the upcoming COP27, calls, among other things, for US$ 1 billion annual funding to cover the costs of climate adaptation.

At present, the region’s islands receive les than half that amount through the Pacific Resilience Facility.

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