Samoas climate change error
By Cherelle Jackson
APIA - It has been five months since Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi stood in front of world leaders in Copenhagen, Denmark and addressed the impacts of climate change on Samoa.
In the audience in Copenhagen were some of the world’s leading scientists and climatologists.
The speech was heartfelt. Tuilaepa, like many of his fellow island Prime Ministers, was speaking from experience. The mere existence of some of these islands was at great risk as a result of the adverse impacts of climatic change.
But the speech which was factually accurate for the first few minutes, quickly turned into dismay as Tuilaepa, reading from a pre-prepared speech, included the tsunami in his list of climate change impacts.
It’s not rocket science. A tsunami is not caused by the weather, but those who prepared the Prime Minister’s speech somehow failed to note this fact.
So where is the basis of this misconception?
Why, one would ask, is it that someone has decided that the victims of the tsunami are victims of a climate change event?
There is no concrete evidence to date that tsunamis, let alone earthquakes are caused by climatic changes.
However three experts have offered their opinions on the possible but remote links between climate change and a tsunami.
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) of the United Nations says there is no link between seismic activities and weather patterns.
Secretary General of WMO Michel Jarraud says that although the frequencies of earthquakes and tsunamis are notable, the link is not defined.
“There is no scientific link between the tw
o, as far as we know, there is no significant link between earthquakes and climate change.”
Jarraud says that there are aspects of climate change that could affect tsunamis in the region.
“What happens though is that with sea level rise as a result of climate change, the impact of tsunami will be bigger, because the sea level is higher so the tsunami will penetrate deeper over land.”
Director of Germanwatch, a climate and development organisation says that the link can be considered.
Christopher Bals said: “I think there are no scientifically based indications that the tsunamis or earthquakes so far are connected to climate change. There is an emerging debate about this, but so far there is no evidence that this is really happening.”
Although very little research is published on the link between earthquakes and climate change, some scientists are convinced they can be interrelated.
Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets and glaciers are melting as well as sliding according to Robert Correll, the Chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.
He says Greenland has seen a massive acceleration of the speed at which glaciers are sliding into the ocean, and each slide can cause an “ice” quake occurring several times a year.
Bill McGuire of University College London says: “The whole earth is an interactive system. You don’t need huge changes to trigger responses from the crust.”
However Climatologist, Dr. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that any shifts in sea levels are usually gradual and thus it would not cause sudden plate movements.
“In areas of large land masses, I can understand if there was a sudden glacial displacement that it may cause some tremors, but in the oceanic region, that is naturally not possible.”
* The writer is a 2010 Reuters Fellow at the University of Oxford. Her research is on climate change reporting in the Pacific islands.