Climate Adaptation Learning from the Pacific Islands Climate Change Experience

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Pacific Islands climate adaptation

The ecosystem-based adaptation strategies that the Pacific Islands are doing to build resilience in the face of climate change is the subject of the research paper, “Lessons from the Pacific Islands – Adapting to Climate Change by Supporting Social and Ecological Resilience.”

Published by Frontiers Media on 18 June 2019, the paper describes the challenges and vulnerability of the Pacific Islands to the impacts of climate change.

Because of its location, the islands are ideal “hubs of innovations” for adaptations strategies to be piloted and tested. And results can then be used for climate adaptation in other parts of the world the paper says.

It reveals that the Pacific Islands are facing increasing droughts and water scarcity and the reality is that some of their traditions and practices are not sustainable. Examples of these unsustainable and destructive practices are overfishing, pollution, overpopulation, mining, and overuse of natural resources.

The paper states that the locals have their own way of adapting to climate change and can be different from western knowledge and science. Their ways of adaptations–use of traditional methods and knowledge can sometimes be neglected or unappreciated by the global community partly because of the bias towards western technology and science over other methods, as cited in the paper.

However, with adaptation measures, it can still fall short when comparing it to the magnitude of climate change. Because of this, some trade-offs are needed with migration as the very last option to be considered according to the report.

The paper focuses on the Ecosystem-based Adaptation or EBA, a ‘sustainable climate solution and reinforcing the critical role of ecosystems in climate adaptation’ in the Pacific Islands.

The research highlights the following ecosystem-based adaptation that Pacific islanders are doing with a brief description:

Revitalizing Traditional wells

Because most of the pacific islanders lived along the coastlines, their freshwater sources from streams, water tanks, and aquifers are threatened by coastal flooding. They need a strategy to protect and preserve their water source from pollution and threats of saltwater intrusion. How they do this is stated in this report.

Implementing Climate-Smart Agriculture

This means managing their farms, livestock, forests, and fishes in a sustainable way that increases food production and improve their livelihoods. The traditional way of farming and fishing were replaced by new farming practices that provide them with more food security, protect the marine ecosystem, as well as boost their livelihood.

Relying heavily on fishing as the main source of food and income has been the local tradition, but there is now a transition to planting gardens and raising crops for a more sustainable food production and implementation of low-aquaculture projects to protect their marine ecosystem.

Implementation of Protected Areas

One of the municipalities in Micronesia called Tamil has experienced flooding, salt-water intrusions, drought, erosions due to climate change. To make matters worse, they are highly dependent on their watershed, have poor water management, and lack of other water sources.

Because of these existing problems, the community has declared their first Watershed Protected Area in 2017. The protection of the watershed will provide them with a reliable source of freshwater and will make them more resilient against climate change impacts. To know more about this read the paper.

Climate-smart development plans

Melekeok State in the main island of Palau, most homes and infrastructures like schools and capitol building are located along the coast making it vulnerable to flooding and erosion.  The Palau government developed a national climate change policy, which ‘identifies the need for building ecosystem and community resilience’.

And the Melekeok community developed a climate-smart guidance document.  This document provides guidance for updating their current infrastructure, among others, to make it resilient for climate change impacts. More details on this are provided in the report.

Challenges to Implementing Adaptation strategies

According to the report, these are the challenges that pacific islanders are facing as they apply climate adaptation strategies:

               The remoteness of Islands. This includes challenges to accessing materials, high cost of transportations, distance from markets. However, these obstacles can also lead islanders to be more creative and innovative, read the paper to know more about this.

                Lack of technical and financial capacity. This includes ‘financial and project management, climate modelling and spatial analysis, and infrastructure management and maintenance’. Also, the Islands experiences a high turnover of their talented youths and locals who would usually go abroad to seek better opportunities. This deprives the islands of the necessary skills and technical capacity that they would otherwise need.  Lack of financial resources also means that instruments and equipment needed for regulations and enforcement cannot be obtained immediately unless there is funding available.

                Governance. Islanders follow the traditional or tribal governance systems, and mostly incompatible with the western style of governance. For example, western international funding organisations usually require strict contract-based agreements like land transfers, because local procedures are sometimes different from the western way of doing things this poses a challenge or difficulty. Pacific Island communities are doing something to bridge this gap to make funding easier to access as explained in the report.

                Measuring impacts. Many pacific islands have small populations and land masses and they are so reliant on their ecosystems for their food, livelihood, and traditions. Adapting to climate change really has an impact on their well-being and ecosystems. According to the paper, what the local government and their community are doing with the support of international funding organisations have also inspired other small island states to do the same.

What the research paper recommends

For the Pacific Islands, ecosystem-based adaptations to continue and be efficient requires funding and supporting government policies. It also needs regular evaluation and refinement to ensure that it continues to address local needs. Traditional ways and methods of adaptation should be acknowledged while introducing innovations and new ways of doing things.

The establishment of protected areas for water source and marine ecosystems, and adaptation projects needs to be strengthened and supported. There is also a need to incorporate climate change into government policies and plans, ‘revising it over time to address changing conditions’.

These adaptation efforts do not stop here as there is still more work to be done. To know more about what the pacific island community and government need to do and how international funding institutions can support and enable them, we encourage you to read this paper.

Citation: Mcleod E, Bruton-Adams M, Förster J, Franco C, Gaines G, Gorong B, James R, Posing-Kulwaum G, Tara M and Terk E (2019) Lessons From the Pacific Islands – Adapting to Climate Change by Supporting Social and Ecological Resilience. Front. Mar. Sci. 6:289. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00289

PHOTO CREDIT: Three of the major groups fo islands in the Pacific Ocean by User:Kahuroa – Outline: File:World2Hires filled mercator.svg; Map information based on Vaka Moana: Voyages of the Ancestors – the discovery and settlement of the Pacific, ed K.R. Howe, 2008, p57., Public Domain, Link  
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