The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has just published a worrying report on the state of the climate in the South-West Pacific region. The document highlights the profound and interconnected challenges facing the region. It also highlights the socio-economic risks and impacts on key sectors such as agriculture. Rising sea levels threaten the future of low-lying islands, while increasing ocean heat and acidification are harming vital and vulnerable marine ecosystems. The urgent need for action to mitigate and adapt to these critical issues is underlined.
Released on the occasion of the "Third Pacific Ministerial Meeting on Meteorology" and the "First Development Partner and Donor Engagement Meeting in Fiji", the report entitled: "State of the Climate in 2022 in the South West Pacific", provides an overview of climate indicators and extreme weather events over the past year.
According to the document, the three-year La Niña episode had a clear influence on temperatures in 2022. Despite this temporary cooling, the year was warm for the region. The average temperature was 0.2°C to 0.3°C higher than that recorded during the last La Niña episode in 2011. The Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Petteri Taalas, has stated that the El Niño phenomenon, which succeeded La Niña, is very likely to continue for the rest of the year. It will have a significant impact on the southwest Pacific region, as it is often associated with higher temperatures, marine heat waves and coral bleaching.
The ice thickness of the glacier located in the western part of the Indonesian island of New Guinea shows a sharp decrease. From 2016 to 2022, the average reduction in ice area was around 0.07 km2 per year. Ice thickness measurements show a reduction of 24 meters between June 2010 and early 2021. By December 2022, it was estimated at six metres.
The WMO report indicates that ocean level rise in the Pacific region (4mm) exceeds the global average. Warming of the oceans, which absorb more than 90% of the excess heat, contributes around 40% of the average sea-level rise. It modifies ocean currents, storm tracks and affects marine ecosystems.
In 2022, 35 natural disasters were reported in the southwest Pacific according to the International Disaster Database, over 70% of which were floods. These events caused more than 700 deaths, over 70% of which were storm-related, particularly in the Philippines and Fiji. More than 8 million people were directly affected by these hazards.
Early warning is one of the most effective ways of reducing the damage caused by disasters, as it enables people to make informed decisions about food security and other sectors. Despite ongoing efforts, the report shows that there are still significant gaps to be filled.
In 2022, overall, floods caused the highest economic losses in Australia, with a total of over $8 billion, followed by Indonesia (over $74 million) and the Philippines (over $11 million). This spectacular increase is mainly due to the Australian floods, as well as those caused by tropical storms "Megi" and "Nalgae" in the Philippines.