Environment and climate change: The Pacific islands are adapting to climate change

With sea levels rising, Fiji and its neighbours have been forced to take action.

© Mareike Kürschner
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The Pacific islands are adapting to climate change

Fiji and other island states in the Pacific are having to adapt to the consequences of climate change. The region is affected by more severe tropical cyclones, lengthier periods of drought and, above all, rising sea levels. The 15 governments of the Pacific Community are addressing the challenges with a range of measures, including relocation of villages, greater use of renewable energy and improved disaster management.

Glaciers in Greenland and the Antarctic are melting, sea levels are rising, flooding is becoming increasingly common – these are the direct consequences of climate change. Many of those living in the Pacific island states have been particularly badly hit – including the village of Narikoso on the Fijian island of Ono, with its 100 inhabitants. Families of this coastal community, where some houses are already enclosed by water on a daily basis, have been forced to abandon their village and start again from scratch on higher ground.

Since 2011, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has been helping the 15 governments of the Pacific Community in various ways to adapt to the consequences of climate change. The federal enterprise is implementing these activities on behalf of the European Union and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

© Mareike Kürschner

Rising sea levels: a new start in Fiji

In collaboration with the Fijian government, regional partners and the local people affected, GIZ has developed a set of relocation guidelines – a first for the region. Lessons learned from the pilot village of Narikoso are extremely valuable for future climate-induced relocations in the region: studies have identified around 40 communities in Fiji alone that will need to be relocated on the grounds of flood risk.

In Narikoso the first relocations are being planned: In 2019, seven new houses will be built 150 metres away from the old village. This way the community can stay intact and the houses are protected from rising sea levels. The new houses will be connected to the water supply system and use solar panels to receive power from renewable energy sources. But Narikoso’s inhabitants need more than just a roof over their heads – they also need a livelihood. So the project is supporting them in planting more heat-resilient fruit and vegetable varieties and in this way adapting food production to changed climate conditions. Moreover, the project carries out measures for coastal protection: Mangroves are planted to prevent more soil and earth from being lost to the water. This helps to protect 20 families in Narikoso whose house are yet to be immediately threatened by rising sea levels.

The relocations function as a pilot project and lay the groundwork, not just for people in Fiji, but the whole Pacific region with more than ten million inhabitants.

Renewable energy to replace fossil fuels

The Pacific island states are also keen to reduce their own contribution to climate change and move towards sustainable energy production – they are currently dependent on fossil fuels. The Solomon Islands, for example, are aiming to meet half their energy requirements with renewable energy by 2020 and at the same time expand the electricity infrastructure.

GIZ is currently helping nine Pacific states to expand their use of renewables. In Papua New Guinea, village clinics are being equipped with solar plants that operate independently of the electricity grid. This means that refrigerators for medicines and blood reserves have a reliable power source – a significant improvement in health care for the population. Across the nine states, more than 60 solar and biogas plants will supply in total around 8,500 people with ‘green’ energy by the end of 2020.

© Mareike Kürschner

Smartphone apps provide support in an emergency

The island of Vanuatu is at particular risk from cyclones. GIZ is therefore working with the United Nations and other partners to develop various smartphone apps to help people to prepare more effectively for natural disasters. By chance, just before the most severe cyclone in Vanuatu’s history in 2015, for example, 70,000 smartphone users received information on how best to protect their harvest and livestock against storms and flooding – knowledge which was of direct benefit to those coping with the emergency situation.

A second app allows people to inform authorities quickly about their situation in the immediate aftermath of a storm – whether they have enough food, for example, or the volume of crops that have suffered damage in the fields. This measure has provided targeted assistance to 108,000 inhabitants on 22 islands. Currently under further development, the smartphone apps were used mostly recently in remote parts of the island state in the wake of Cyclone Donna in May 2017.

Last updated: December 2018

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