The 'Micro' Pacific Islands Paying The Price Of Major Environmental Abuse

From Fiji to the Marshall Islands, it's time to react to the effects left by emissions from large industrialized nations.

Fiji in Melanesia, South Pacific Ocean
Fiji in Melanesia, South Pacific Ocean
Claudine Wery

NOUMEA - The constellation of islands and atolls scattered across a vast swath of the Pacific Ocean micro-states are among those most exposed to the consequences of global warming: ocean acidification, multiplication of natural disasters, coral reef degradation, rising sea-levels.

These little islands, which account for a total of about 10 million inhabitants, are paying for the environmental irresponsibility of the world’s great powers.

"Pacific islands are the victims of industrial countries unable to control their carbon dioxide emissions. The truth of the matter is that we have no option but to accept this and adapt," says Dr Jimmie Rodgers, head of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), a regional development organization.

At the initiative of the Research on Development Institute (IRD) and the University of New Caledonia, about 30 regional scientists brainstormed at the end of April on the design of a sustainable development model suitable for local conditions – where climate dictates new lifestyles for people with ancient traditions.

In a study published by the journal Nature Climate Change, the IRD and the SPC issue a warning on the “significant” impact of global warming on food security on these islands. Fish stocks, which are the primary source of protein for islanders and a basis for development, will be particularly affected. Currently about one million tons of tuna are caught every year in Oceania.

In Kiribati, fishing accounts for up to 40% of GDP while in the Marshall Islands, fishing and fish processing represent 25% of overall revenue. “The rising temperature of surface waters, which is greater in the western part of the ocean basin, will encourage tuna to migrate east toward Polynesia,” explains Johann Bell, one of the authors of the study and principal fisheries scientist at SPC.

Sending out an S.O.S.? - Photo: Magpie372

Melanesian countries such as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands will suffer the most: “PNG has a large canning industry, but in few decades, it will have to import tuna to keep it running,” says Bell. “Fortunately, it can count on favorable international agreements to buy fish wherever it likes, with low customs duty,” he says. For smaller economies such as Tuvalu or Kiribati, disappearance of tuna shoals could result in significant financial losses.

Lack of funds

Effects are even more dramatic on coastal fisheries, given the degradation of coral reefs. The population density of live coral reefs is expected to drop from 40% today across the Pacific, to 10% or 20% by 2050, say the scientists, which will translate into a decrease of 20% of reef fish.

With an increase in rainfall, the SPC encourages the expansion of aquaculture and freshwater fisheries. Nile tilapia fish farms, an introduced species, have opened in Fiji, Vanuatu and Samoa. In order to reduce the pressure on reefs and allow coastal populations to catch tuna, floating pontoon that attracts fish are also recommended.

On land, islanders must adapt as well. In Fiji, the Center for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) created a department that specializes in adapting food crops. "Climate change brings new constraints for crops, which are subject to unpredictable ecological pressures such as drought, higher salt concentrations, extreme temperatures and erosion," explains a representative. Thousands of varieties of Manioca, taro, sweet potatoes and bananas have been screened in order to offer farmers new and more resistant varieties. “We are promoting these seeds,” says Henry Puna, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, an archipelago of 12,200 people that has been severely affected by coastal erosion.

But there is not enough money needed to finance these adaptation programs. International funding mechanisms are formatted for medium and large countries. The Pacific island countries rarely have the critical mass to qualify. "We cannot make ourselves heard in the international arena. It is vital for us to act as a region," says Puna, who is happy that climate change is the central theme of the annual summit of the Pacific Forum, a regional political organization, to be held in September in the Marshall Islands.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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