- In the Pacific Ocean climate change is a reality that is here and now
Camilla Borrevik is showing the students on board Statsraad Lehmkuhl the front line of climate change.
It is almost four months since 86 students from the University of Bergen mustered Statsraad Lehmkuhl in Chile to sail across the Pacific Ocean to Palau. The ship has visited several Pacific states and the students have met people directly affected by climate change.
The trip is a semester subject in sustainability, SDG200, which deals with the UN's climate goals and has a main focus on oceans, climate and society. The students have worked interdisciplinary and learned about the research on sustainability that takes place in various subjects. Not only reading about it, but also get to experience the issues in practice.
Camilla Borrevik is one of the lecturers during the One Ocean Expedition on the leg from Fiji to Palau. She hopes that the students have gained a greater perspective on the world and insight into how climate change affects the way of life of people on the other side of the globe.
- Sustainability and sustainable development are difficult concepts that can mean very different things to different people. A sustainable society here in the Pacific is not the same as a sustainable society at home in Norway. After four months on a ship, I hope the students are left with a stronger relationship with the sea and think of the sea as something that binds us together. We have one ocean and it binds the Pacific Ocean together with Norway in many ways.
Borrevik is a social anthropologist and has extensive experience with climate research in the Pacific Ocean. Through extended fieldwork in Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Palau, she has researched the social, political and cultural consequences of climate change in Pacific countries. Despite the fact that the Pacific Ocean covers a third of the entire Earth, it is a large region that most people, both in Norway and elsewhere in the world, know little about.
- What I see as perhaps my most important role is to inform people about the Pacific Ocean. It is such an incredibly current and pressured situation here. It has become a matter of my heart, says Borrevik.
Oceania consists of 14 independent countries and is divided into three subregions; Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. There are over 20,000 islands and hundreds of different languages and cultures in the Pacific, making it a very interesting region for a social anthropologist who studies society, people and culture.
- What is particularly important in the Pacific Ocean is the strong relationship the people have with their country and the surrounding sea. Here you find people whose culture, tradition and history are really connected to these archipelagos they were brought up on, and which is also an important part of who they are as people.
Climate change is causing the sea to rise faster than it has done in the past. In addition, one can see, among other things, an acidification of the oceans and an increased risk of extreme weather. There have always been tropical cyclones in the Pacific, but they have now become stronger and more destructive to the island states.
- When a category 5 cyclone comes and sweeps over the islands, it has enormous consequences. In the worst case, human life can be lost, says Borrevik.
Category 5 is the most powerful category tropical cyclones are divided into. Here, the average wind speed is over 250 kilometers per hour.
In several countries, climate change has already led to people having to leave their homes due to rising sea levels and extreme weather. The Marshall Islands is one of the lowest-lying countries in the world with an average height of 1.8 meters above sea level. Large parts of the country are in danger of disappearing in a few years.
- It will be dramatic for the Marshall Islands in the future. When the UN's climate panel estimates that we will have a sea level rise in the next 100 years that is almost up to one metre, it goes without saying that this will have quite large consequences for such a low-lying island state.
Sea level is not rising at the same rate everywhere, and in the Marshall Islands it has risen twice as fast as the global average. This puts the island state in an acute situation that could lead to many people having to flee their homeland due to climate change.
- The Pacific countries have clear potential climate refugees. They are working hard to try to get some agreements in place so that the most vulnerable, those who live on atolls, have some kind of safety net when they have to move from their country.
Overall, climate change will have enormous consequences, both for the people who live there, but also for biodiversity. When the sea becomes acidified and the corals die, the fish and much of the life in the sea that people here depend on also disappear.
- Climate change in the Pacific Ocean is a reality that is here and now. What is distant to us at home in Norway or elsewhere in the world is something they live with every day here. The island states are the countries in the world with the least CO2 emissions, but experience the greatest consequences of climate change. The future of the Pacific Islands depends on whether we can cut greenhouse gas emissions. If we don't meet the target of 1.5 degrees, now we are well over that, we know that this is going to have huge consequences.
Through her work in Palau, Borrevik has had the opportunity to participate as a participant in Palau's delegation during the UN's international climate negotiations. Palau works hard to be heard internationally.
- For being a region with only 12 million people, they make a considerably larger impression globally and internationally. They have really taken the lead in many cases in international climate negotiations and they are trying to push their case forward in many forums and tell their story.
During the course, the students have gained a unique insight into what the UN's sustainability goals and climate change mean in practice. Borrevik believes that as long as we take climate change seriously, it gives hope for the future.
- I am sure that the next generation is far more willing to stand up, not only on behalf of themselves, but also on behalf of others. I hope and believe that most of the students who take part in One Ocean Expedition will have a memory for life. Not only with the friendships they have made between themselves and all that they have experienced here on board a ship, but also about the place itself. The Pacific Ocean is so vast and so far away, but will be so close to so many of them.
Translated to english by Ronald Toppe