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From Paris: Island Nations Share Challenges With Coastal Louisiana

Protesters on the second day of the United Nations climate change talks in Paris.
Tegan Wendland
Protesters on the second day of the United Nations climate change talks in Paris.

Many small island countries are banking on support from the United Nations to help them cope with the impacts of sea level rise and coastal erosion, as a result of climate change. WWNO’s Tegan Wendland reports from Paris on the second day of UN negotiations to reduce global warming. She found that island nations' challenges are similar to those faced here in Louisiana.

“Because of sea level rise there will be coastal erosion. Coastal erosion impacts habitation – people will be forced to move a little bit further and that will provide pressure on a community already there. So there are a lot of impacts.” - Andrew Tahindro, Madagascar

“Coastal erosion is actually one of our biggest, biggest threats to every kind of security. Food security, health security, everything. Its our everyday life that we face – coastal erosion, any type of storm surge that comes in, big or small, we get affected by any type of erosion.” - Brodrick Menke, Marshall Islands

“We’re faced with very serious challenges of erosion, of coastal erosion. Of destruction of our infrastructure. Roads, bridges, ports, even airports that are by the coast. We now have to think about relocating them properly.” - Tony Lavins, Philippines

These could easily be the voices of coastal Louisiana, instead of island nations at the UN climate talks. They're in Paris to request funding and support for a lot of the things Louisiana needs, too: improving infrastructure, paying for storm protection, and staving off land loss.

In the language of the UN negotiations, “mitigation,” “adaptation” and “loss and damage” are the key terms. As the nations hammer out agreements on how to stop global temperature rise, they also haggle over support for the poorer nations to adapt to climate change. Also, support for the damage already caused -- like erosion.

Tony Lavina is an environmental lawyer and spokesman for The Philippines at COP 21.

“The stakes are very high," he says. "Obviously we want this stopped, we want the danger reduced, so a high mitigation ambition. But we also need support for building our defenses, for adaptation -- very critical for us -- and because we’re coastal, loss and damage is important.”

“Loss and damage” is the term for all of the ways an international agreement would provide money for developing nations to cope with climate change, like insurance funds or money for coastal infrastructure.

Broderick Menke is a conservation program officer in the Marshall Islands.

“This COP21 is a really big deal for our islands," he says. "This is a make or break for us. So we’re really supporting our leaders, we’re supporting other leaders from the world.”

The Marshall Islands are part of the Pacific Islands, which include some of the most vulnerable countries in the world. A new UN report out today highlights climate change and migration there, and found that up to 70 percent of the people in some areas plan to move soon if conditions like sea level rise, saltwater intrusion and drought get worse.

Over in Madagascar, off the coast of Africa, they have the same problems. Andrew Tahindro, the director general for oceans and forestry there, says 50 or 60 years ago storms would cause minor flooding. Now, half of the city and coastal areas are flooded.

"That’s of course because of sea level rise," he says. "That’s having an impact on their habitation like in Louisiana a couple of years ago. But in the [United] States you have the means to rebuild and restore, to rebuild everything.”

But that, as anyone who lives in coastal Louisiana is well aware, is not necessarily true.

Ajay Madiwale is an advisor at the delegation of the international federation of the Red Cross, which does disaster relief after major storms all over the world. Extreme weather is one of the impacts of climate change, and Madiwale points out those impacts know no borders.

“The poorest and most vulnerable people are always disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change," says Madiwale. "As leaders are gathering here over these two weeks it’s important to realize that climate change is having an impact now.”

Lavina from the Philippines feels for the people of Louisiana.

“I always say the injustice of climate change is distributed unjustly also around the world and within countries, including in the united states. The poor are the ones that are going to suffer most.”

He hopes that whatever agreement the conference of the parities reaches at the end of this two week session supports the low-income in all countries.

Support for the coastal desk’s reporting from Paris is provided by the Foundation for Louisiana.

Support also comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Coypu Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

Tegan has reported on the coast for WWNO since 2015. In this role she has covered a wide range of issues and subjects related to coastal land loss, coastal restoration, and the culture and economy of Louisiana’s coastal zone, with a focus on solutions and the human dimensions of climate change. Her reporting has been aired nationally on Planet Money, Reveal, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, BBC, CBC and other outlets. She’s a recipient of the Pulitzer Connected Coastlines grant, CUNY Resilience Fellowship, Metcalf Fellowship, and countless national and regional awards.

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