Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has assured the Pacific island states of continued support in the fight against the consequences of climate change.

“The climate crisis is literally washing the ground from under people’s feet here,” said the Green politician in Fiji, 16,000 kilometers from Germany, where no German foreign minister has ever been before. “We will not leave the region alone, not alone with the greatest security challenge of this century, the climate crisis.”

Ocean rise is accelerating

Fiji is one of the 14 island states in the South Pacific that, although they account for a negligible share of global emissions of climate-damaging gases, are partially threatened in their existence by the consequences of climate change. The more than 1,000 Marshall Islands, for example, most of whose land area is barely more than two meters above sea level, could sink into the Pacific Ocean in just a few decades if global warming continues to melt the polar ice unchecked.

According to an assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) last year, the average global sea level has risen by 20 centimeters since the beginning of the 20th century. During this time, the rate of increase has almost tripled from 1.3 to 3.7 millimeters per year. Extreme weather phenomena such as increasing tropical storms, droughts and heavy rain are making the situation worse – including in Fiji.

Vuniniudrovo: A small village on the climate front

“The Pacific region is literally on the front line of this climate crisis,” said Baerbock during her visit to Fiji, for which she took an unusually long time of three days – including a visit to the climate front in question. For example, it runs through the middle of the small village of Vuniniudrovo in the hinterland of the capital Suva. There it is brown, damp and quite rapid: the Waimanu River is stealing meter by meter of land from the village, in which almost 300 families once lived. It wasn’t until March that two meters of bank surface fell into the flood again.

A third of the population has now given up and moved up the slope. To where it seems safe in the long term. “This village used to have four or five rows of houses,” says Filimone Ralogaivau, head of climate change at Fiji’s Ministry of Environment. “Now there are only two rows because of the erosion of the river banks. And it’s only getting worse.”

42 villages in Fiji at high risk

Things don’t look any better on the coasts, where between 70 and 80 percent of the population lives. Resettlement is a big issue. Six villages in Fiji have already been completely abandoned and 42 are considered highly endangered. The German Development and Cooperation Agency (GIZ) supports the resettlement projects. But help for the island states is also about economic aid and promoting the expansion of renewable energies.

Seven million euros have now been made available through an Asian Development Bank fund to support solar energy storage projects in Vanuatu and Tonga, says Baerbock. “It is no longer enough for us to pay money abstractly into large UN pots where money is then paid out years later; we must act now, very actively and very concretely.”

First German embassy in the South Seas

This also included the opening of the first German embassy in the South Seas in Fiji last August. The diplomatic presence is urgently needed because competition from China has long been there, and on a completely different scale. “If you are a few streets further here, you will see others who have ten times the amount of embassy premises here,” admits Baerbock.

And the people of Fiji ultimately don’t care who helps them with the climate crisis. “At this point we say: beggars cannot be choosers,” says Filimone Ralogaivau. Ultimately, the existence of village communities like the one in Vuniniudrovo is at stake for Fiji.