State of the Climate in South-West Pacific 2020
This report on the State of the Climate in South-West Pacific 2020 is the first of its kind for this region and a milestone multi-agency effort to deliver informed climate analysis and climate change trends. It includes a comprehensive integrated risk assessment and climate action guidance for building resilience to extreme weather events and climate change, thus promoting sustainable development. The 2020 report is the first in the series of the report; the second can be found here.
The report covers states and territories across the vast South-West Pacific Ocean, the adjacent oceanic areas north of the equator and the eastern parts of the Indian Ocean. The ocean provides critical ecosystem services and is of particular importance for this region’s species and habitats. The report highlights the real and potential risks associated with the changes occurring in ocean circulation, temperature, acidification and deoxygenation, as well as rising sea level. The Small Island Developing States are increasingly vulnerable to these changes, as their incomes are highly linked to fisheries, aquaculture and tourism.
- In the South-West Pacific region, 2020 was the second or third warmest year on record, depending on the data set. Near-surface temperatures over the land and ocean averaged across the region were about 0.37–0.44 °C above the 1981–2010 average.
- A wide-range of precipitation anomalies occurred in the region. In tropical regions, it was a relatively wet year. Conversely, it was a dry year in many equatorial regions close to the international date line and in regions farther east. It was a very dry year in many parts of New Zealand. Rainfall over most parts of Australia was relatively close to average.
- Tropical glaciers are highly sensitive indicators and recorders of climate change. Most tropical glaciers are currently in retreat, primarily due to recent anthropogenic atmospheric warming.
- Storms and floods have historically been the most devastating extreme weather events in the region. The Philippines and Small Island Developing States have suffered greatly from regular typhoons/tropical cyclones.
- In the South Pacific tropical cyclone region, in April, the category 5 Tropical Cyclone Harold led to extensive human and economic damage in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga. In December, Fiji was affected by a second major event, Tropical Cyclone Yasa. Impacts from Yasa were also experienced in nearby Vanuatu and Tonga.
- In the western Pacific tropical cyclone region, the Philippines was particularly devastated by consecutive tropical cyclones during the months of October and November. Typhoon Goni (Rolly) had one of the most intense landfalls of any tropical cyclone on record when it reached the Philippines on 30 October.
- Climate and extreme weather events had major and diverse impacts on population movements and on the vulnerability of people already on the move in the region throughout 2020. Many displacement situations triggered by hydrometeorological events have become prolonged or protracted for people unable to return to their former homes or without options for integrating locally or settling elsewhere.
- The multidimensional risks for the people and economies of the region increased. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted socioeconomic development in the region, affecting key drivers of growth including the private sector, trade, tourism and remittances, and has revealed gaps in countries’ capacities for addressing systemic and cascading risks.
- Ocean warming, deoxygenation and acidification are additional factors changing the oceans’ circulation pattern and chemistry. Fish and zooplankton are migrating to higher latitudes and changing behaviours. Consequently, traditional fisheries are altering. This has critical implications for the Pacific islands where coastal fishing is a principal activity that provides for nutrition, welfare, culture and employment.
- In 2020, a significant marine heatwave occurred over the Great Barrier Reef area of Australia. In February, sea-surface temperatures over this area were 1.2 °C above the 1961–1990 average, making it the warmest month in terms of Great Barrier Reef sea-surface temperatures on record. High temperatures affected the entire reef and widespread coral bleaching was reported, the third mass bleaching event in the past five years.
- Under the scenario in which global mean temperature increases 2 °C above pre-industrial levels by 2050, up to 90% of the coral reefs in the Coral Triangle and the Great Barrier Reef could face severe degradation. The altering coral reef habitats can affect the several coastal communities vulnerable to ocean acidification impacts on reefs and their fisheries, aquaculture and tourism.
- Countries in the Pacific are making substantial progress in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 13 on climate action. However, the region needs to accelerate progress towards achieving target 13.1 (strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity) and reverse current trends with a view to achieving other targets related to resilience to disasters (target 1.5 and target 11.5).
- Building resilience to extreme climate events is foundational for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This requires a better understanding of specific risks affecting particular regions and countries, and increased capacity to address them.