The Pacific Island countries (PICs) are amongst the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, yet have contributed negligible amounts to the historical emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases that are the primary cause of today’s climate change. Most inhabitants of PICs depend on subsistence farming and fishing, and the contribution of the PICs region as a whole to CO2 emissions is minimal in the context of the global total.
The impact of climate change is becoming increasingly acute for PICs. Parts of Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands have already become uninhabitable due to sea level rise, rising king tides and water security ( e.g salination) issues. Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands were hit in 2015 by category 5 Cyclone Pam. As recent as February 2016, parts of Fiji were completely devastated by Cyclone Winston, also a category 5 cyclone, and the strongest ever recorded in Fiji. Less than two months later Fiji and Vanuatu suffered further damage as a result of category 3 Cyclone Zena. More severe disasters are predicted in the future as temperatures continue to rise.
Dr Kirsten Davies and colleagues from Macquarie Law School and PACE International have developed an ongoing research program in collaboration with the law schools from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the University of South Pacific (USP). Each year a different aspect of climate change legislation will be investigated. In 2016 the topic is: The Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility, which is a fundamental component of the international climate regime. Macquarie students are conducting extensive background research of legal materials and relevant literature to investigate what this principle really means for the South Pacific Island of Vanuatu. Students for across the three universities are approaching six different research questions and carrying out this investigation together with academics from each collaborating institution. Students and academics from QUT and MQ will travel to Vanuatu in September to meet with USP and present the research findings. The Macquarie student’s expenses of travelling to Vanuatu have been assisted through funding from the New Colombo Plan and PACE. One of the outcomes of this project will be a joint journal article authored by participating academics and students.