Speaking at the opening of the Climate Change Development and Resilience Round Table at the National Auditorium on Thursday last week, Puna said the experiences of five tropical cyclones on Rarotonga that year had also affected them psychologically.
Apart from the five, he said Tropical Cyclone Martin which struck Manihiki in 1997, destroyed 90 per cent of housing and resulted into 19 deaths.
Tropical Cyclone Pat damaged 78 per cent of Aitutaki’s homes, at an estimated cost of $9.5 million, in 2010, Puna added.
“There is also the social and psychological costs of these events, which are difficult to quantify. These memories are still very fresh in our minds. The climate projections for the Cook Islands by scientists for more intense storms, alarms us,” Puna said.
Therefore he said climate change was an important issue that warranted extra attention to avoid such calamities in the future.
“Projections that temperatures will continue to increase; that rainfall will be more intense, while dry periods will be extended; that ocean acidification will persist; coral bleaching will spread, and sea level will continue to rise; is frightening, to say the least,” Puna said.
“Our own contribution to the causes of climate change is negligible, in comparison to other far larger and more developed economies. We therefore appreciate that the threat of a changing climate, is a global one. One that, if we don’t tackle collectively, the consequences are extremely grim.”
Puna, who has been praised for leading the fight against climate change in the country and the region, said he believes that they can tackle the issue.
He said the three most important things people could do to help were to stop the activities that cause it, enhance the resilience to its effects and talk about it.
“For us on the frontline, climate change is too true to be any good. We have to tell it like it is. That if we don’t collectively and globally address the causes, be ambitious in our emissions targets, we cannot overcome the effects,” Puna said.
“This is why the Cook Islands, on the international stage, continuously calls for action – urgent action. We have no choice, but to collectively tackle this issue together.”
Puna said the Cook Islands were trying to do their part by setting ambitious renewable energy targets.
The country has been successful at engaging partners to realise the ambition set in 2010, of 50 per cent electricity coverage of the islands by 2015 and 100 per cent by 2020.
“We take our mitigation against climate change seriously. And I am certain that today, you will hear more of our plans in this regard.
“This is our tiny country doing our share of limiting our emissions – trying to stop the activities that cause climate change. But of course, we cannot do it without our partners help. I can guarantee that you will be impressed with our ambition.”