By Julianne Park
Human activity and the exploitation of our planet's natural resources come at a price. Climate change is not only damaging ecosystems but also impacting people across the world. In recent years, we have seen the horrifying consequences of climate change through natural disasters and the destruction of livelihoods.
Ethel Akema, at 27 years old is from Papua New Guinea and is witnessing ecological disasters at home.
"My mum is from an island village, and every holiday we go there, and the coral used to be so colorful and full of life, and just recently I went again and saw the same coral looking brown and there were no colorful fish that used to be there.
“It was very disappointing, and I asked my people why it’s like that, they replied that today people use dynamite to fish which is causing the decline in coral life."
Dynamite fishing is an unsafe (often illegal) practice that destroys the habitats of many species and ecosystems, like coral reefs. When coral reefs are destroyed, the consequence, as Ethel states, is the disappearance of fish. It is an example of the tragedy of the commons when vital resources are left unprotected and therefore misused, and a direct consequence of exploitation and over-fishing.
Ethel believes that the government has not taken action to prevent these harmful activities.
"I don't think the government cares about these things at all, probably because there isn't a law in place or it’s not something considered at all life-threatening to them."
And although adaptive measures have not been taken yet, Ethel is hopeful about bringing back the coral reefs: "I haven't just yet, and I didn't know how I can and will, and I believe that through MockCOP26, I can help save the coral reef back at home with ideas and stories from other people."
Adaptive measures are crucial at times like this. We need to build climate-resilient livelihoods that will sustain us and the environment. This means living in a way that allows people to adapt sustainably and even improve their resilience to future climate disasters. It means building stronger and more durable houses. It means new innovative agricultural technologies that will help people thrive even though the environment may change, which, at this point, is inevitable. Though at every stage reducing emissions is the most effective tool for reducing the harm some changes are already baked in from our past activities. And although we can't control the weather or the environment, we can reduce our harmful activities and find ways to adapt.
Though clear to point out she is new to the field, Ethel has a succinct summary of how this can help support at-risk communities.
“A simple explanation would be the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties."
Last year, an event occurred that changed all our lives. COVID-19 has and still is, impacting billions of lives every day. Ethel describes her experience with the pandemic and its effects on climate resilience efforts.
"Ever since COVID-19, less number of people are going out fishing and people are more careful as to get just enough for the day and not like before: fish every day for food and to sell."
These kinds of efforts are not something that should be temporary and dependent on the pandemic, however. We should make these kinds of efforts daily from everywhere on the globe.
Climate resilience can take form in many ways. Resilient technologies can help with more sustainable agricultural or industrial practices. For example, the fishermen in Ethel's community could find more eco-friendly and improved fishing practices that will allow them to catch a sustainable amount of fish while keeping the coral reefs and ecosystems balanced and in check. Resilient technology can also mean stronger and more durable infrastructure. Organizations like Build Change work to reduce the economic and physical losses due to natural disasters like earthquakes and typhoons by building climate-resilient homes for underdeveloped areas. Social protection and economic transformation are among other methods to a step towards climate resilience.
Together, not only can we change our impact on the environment, but we can also change the way the environment may impact us. Our resilience to disaster will be what helps us fight climate change together.
Ethel sends a strong and courageous message to all.
"Never doubt yourself, raise issues that are daunting and put the lives of you and others at risk."
Some quotes have been edited for conciseness and clarity.