The Debate

South Pacific “Comes Together” Over Climate Change

At odds elsewhere, the South Pacific has built a robust set of regional organizations to tackle climate change.

Over the past two decades, the South Pacific’s extreme vulnerability to climate change has increasingly dominated the agenda of the main regional organizations.  And as hope that the international community will act to mitigate climate change has faded, the region is focusing more and more on increasing PICs (Pacific Island Countries) ability to adapt to it.

The South Pacific’s regional organizations have played a critical role in helping the PICs adapt to the enormous environmental challenges they are facing, and will continue to face in the future.

For instance, the predominant regional body, the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), has pursued climate security initiatives by coordinating the actions of major donors and country leaders, and pushing to make adaptation initiatives a primary regional concern. In 2009, PIF succeeded in securing a ¥6.8billion (approximately US$66 million) donation from Japan, through the “PEC (Pacific Environment Community) Fund,” which was launched by Japan and PIF that same year.  Money from the PEC Fund is used to support projects that focus on the establishment of solar power generation systems and/or sea water desalination plants. For the past four years, PIF funed projects in over ten countries in the region.

In 2012, PIF provided the country of Nauru with US$4million to install a solar power generation system and sea-water desalination plant. This project will help the country reach its national objective of having 50 percent of its energy supply provided by renewable energy sources by 2015. The project will also have direct benefits for the local population as potable water will be more accessible and solar power will help the country reduce its diesel consumption by around 60 tons per year.

The PIF is also behind the creation of  “The Niue Declaration on Climate Change,”  endorsed by Pacific leaders at the 39th PIF meeting in 2008, which outlines the region’s approach to dealing with climate change.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Another organization that is helping the South Pacific communities adapt to climate change is the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) . The SPC is an inter-governmental organization consisting of twenty-two South Pacific states and territories plus Australia, New Zealand, France and the U.S. The SPC helps the PICs by providing expert technical, statistical, advisory, and information assistance that may be difficult for individual countries to obtain on their own. The organization has played an important role in focusing on facilitating sustainable development and is currently carrying out various climate change-related adaptation initiatives including programs dealing with sustainable coastal fishing and the protection of land resources.  The SPC is also carrying out projects funded by external sources such as the Coping with Climate Change in the Pacific Island Region (CCCPIR) program, which since 2009 has helped over ten PICs to increase their climate change adaptation capacities.  In Vanuatu for example, one of the projects was to help the Meteorology Services develop Seasonal Climate Forecasts with adaptation advice for farmers. Through the program, Vanuatu has also created a database containing various climate change-related data and also developed a DVD on climate change, produced in the Bislama language, which was then distributed to over 100 communities spread out across 30 islands. 

The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Program (SPREP) is by far the most important regional organization for addressing climate change issues. Charged with protecting the region’s environment and creating sustainable development, SPREP is the main coordinator of the entire region’s climate-related actions. Its four priorities are addressing climate change, biodiversity and ecosystem management, waste management and pollution control, and environmental monitoring and governance.

SPREP has been instrumental in increasing the general awareness and understanding of climate change in the region and in implementing various adaptation projects.  The first major regional climate change project – the Pacific Islands Climate Change Assistance Program– was established by SPREP in 1997.  Funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which is an “independently operating financial organization,” the PICCAP aimed to strengthen the capacities of PIC in meeting the reporting commitments of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Each country who signed and ratified the UNFCCC commitment to provide information on greenhouse gas emissions, estimates for future greenhouse gas emissions, evaluations of current vulnerability and adaptation to climate change.  In order to help the 10 PIC who signed and ratified the UNFCCC meet the convention’s reporting commitments, various workshops were held throughout the region.

For example, in 1998, SPREP hosted a Regional Training Workshop on National Greenhouse Gas Inventory Methodology, which trained PIC officials on how to create national inventories of greenhouse gas sources and sinks. That same year, a six-month training course on climate change vulnerability and adaptation assessment was held at the International Global Change Institute (IGCI), University of Waikato, New Zealand. Although the program did not implement any concrete action plans on how to adapt to climate change, the PICCAP was successful in increasing awareness about climate change throughout the region and was even listed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as an outstanding model of regional cooperation.

Arguably the most influential initiative implemented by SPREP is the Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change Project (PACC). PACC focuses on adaptation activities in key areas like water resource management, coastal vulnerability and food security. GEF hails it as the “first project implemented in the region that responds directly to the call for urgent action on adaptation to climate change, while supporting the systemic and institutional capacity to do so.”   

Since 2009, PACC projects have had a concrete impact on different states. For example, PACC helped the Solomon Islands launch its 2012-2017 National Climate Change Policy, which will help coordinate local and national adaptation initiatives. Similarly, earlier this year the community of Lofeagai in Tuvalu, which suffers from chronic fresh water storage, benefitted from a PACC project that delivered a 700,000 liter cistern, an artificial reservoir, to the area.

SPREP also serves as convener and coordinator of the biennial Pacific Climate Change Roundtable, which some consider “the most significant regional gathering on climate change.” The next event, which is being hosted this week in Fiji, is expected to be attended by over 100 regional and international participants.

SPREP Director General, Mr. David Sheppard describes the event as the major climate change coordination mechanism for the Pacific. He noted that "the PCCR meeting was established to coordinate climate change dialogue and networking in the region.”  The main objective of this year’s meeting is strengthening the coordination between regional organizations in order to increase their ability to support climate change priorities. 

The main topics that will be discussed include increased resilience against climate change impacts and disaster risks, innovative tools for adaptation and mitigation, the "Green and Blue economy" and sustainable development, and climate change financing.

The region’s strong motivation to work together in its struggle against environmental insecurity has undoubted aided each individual island’s ability to adapt to climate change. Given each island-nation’s limited financial, technical and scientific capacities, pooling knowledge and expertise has facilitated more progress than any individual country could have mustered alone. The regional cooperation displayed by the South Pacific islands over these past two decades is a strong endorsement of regional cooperation, and should be extended to other areas such as trade, defense issues, and even health care.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Sabrina Wirz is editorial assistant at The Diplomat.