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Local knowledge and trusted, collaborative relationships with key stakeholders is helping researchers deliver the science that will enable Pacific nations communities to further build climate resilience.
By Melissa Lyne
The Pacific Islands are some of the smallest and lowest-laying islands on Earth, scattered across more than 15 per cent of the world’s surface, and are home to millions. These are some of the planet’s smallest contributors to rising carbon emissions, yet they bear the full brunt of its consequences.
The Marshall Islands is currently in the grip of severe drought that started early this year. The last drought hit in 2016 and before that in 2013. As reported by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as climate change increases so too does the severity and frequency of extreme weather events.
Reginald White, Marshall Islands Met Director, says drought—like other hazards—has many long-term impacts to the islands. Particularly around water security, as the country depends on rainfall for around 90 percent of its water supply.
“The Marshall Islands is now experiencing an outbreak of dengue fever and typhoid as a result,” White says.
As sea levels also rise around the islands, bigger waves flood further inland. This contaminates freshwater supplies further and directly impacts agricultural areas, roads, homes and public buildings; particularly when coinciding with storm-driven extreme rainfall and associated flooding.
The people of these islands survived and adapted to the horrors of world war and nuclear testing. Yet climate change remains the region’s single biggest threat to the ongoing habitability of the islands.
But it’s this threat that also further unites this part of the world.
A combined effort
Ulu Bismarck Crawley, CEO of Samoa’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, told the Samoa Observer that the cost of not planning for future threats across the Pacific is immense.
“[We need] to see, what are the extent of our preparations and the level of commitment we have,” Crawley said.
“It is also important to look at services from science and seeing how that information is utilised to trigger planning and decision-making across the board.”
CSIRO fosters close relationships within the Pacific region, notably with SPREP, to apply its best available science-based climate change data and information where it’s needed most.
“CSIRO does the science, but without our Pacific partners, such as SPREP and the Pacific national meteorological services, our engagement with end-users at the sectoral and local community levels would be far less effective,” says Dr Geoff Gooley, from the CSIRO’s Climate Science Centre.
“They provide the local knowledge and insights to specific needs. And they’re helping us build trusted, collaborative relationships with other key stakeholders throughout the region.
“Together we work with 21 Pacific nations through a regional lens—the Pacific Meteorological Council—and then extend into the countries and sectors such as infrastructure, water, fisheries, agriculture and transport,” Gooley says.
Azarel Maiai, SPREP Capacity Development Officer, says the programmes enable Pacific nations communities to further build climate resilience.
“Climate change science is complex,” she says. “It requires many experienced scientists and dedicated resources to undertake reliable, peer-reviewed science that can be used to inform policy makers, decision makers, sector planners and many others.”
Connecting science with services
At the time of writing this article, Gooley is in Apia, Samoa. He is about to attend the Pacific Meteorological Council biennial meeting (PMC-5), which Samoa is hosting this year.
Alongside SPREP, Gooley and a team of scientists from the CSIRO Climate Science Centre have also just delivered a two-day workshop on the next generation of Pacific climate projections.
This is part of a new two-year, Australian Government-funded Australia-Pacific Climate Partnership project: Next Generation Climate Projections for the Western Tropical Pacific.
Director General of SPREP, Kosi Latu, told the Samoa Observer the project goes beyond just providing science information.
“It will involve translating that science into services,” Latu said. “The need for climate change science to inform planning and decision-making is now more critical than ever.”
Through this project, CSIRO and SPREP will facilitate regional climate change science outreach, knowledge brokering and impact assessments through a series of sectoral case studies.
“Together we’re developing the next generation of climate change data and information to inform climate adaptation and associated policy development at national levels,” Gooley says.
A decade of history
The Australian Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT, and previously AusAid) has funded the climate change science initiatives led by CSIRO and its collaborative research partner, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), with support from SPREP and other Australian and Pacific partners, since 2009.
Between 2009–2014, the partnership delivered a combined AUD$40 million (US$27.1 million) investment in the Pacific Climate Change Science Program (PCCSP) and the subsequent Pacific-Australia Climate Change Science and Adaptation Planning (PACCSAP) programme.
As a result, the climate projections for the Pacific currently remain the most scientifically comprehensive, peer-reviewed and contemporary available.
The programs delivered a range of science, targeted communication and capacity-building activities. These were based on both climate observations and projections consistent with the IPCC 5th Assessment Report (Working Group 1) to improve the scientific understanding of the past, current and future climate of the Pacific.
Maiai says the long-standing partnership helps reach all 22 of the Pacific Islands Members that SPREP supports.
“We’ve seen Climate Crab (an El Nino/La Nina awareness animation) translated into eight different languages for Solomon Islands, Samoa, Niue, Tuvalu, Tonga, Cook Islands, PNG, and Vanuatu,” Maiai says.
“The translation of the climate crab into local languages was a direct request from the national meteorological services for their community consultations. The resulting videos are well-received—they explain the science in terms that are simple to understand.”
She adds the partnership also led to the development of localised cocoa case studies in the Solomon Islands and Samoa.
Gooley says the Australian Government continues to fund more targeted projects that leverage off, and otherwise underpin, what was delivered until 2014. This includes the Pacific Climate Change Science and Services Outreach Project, which wrapped up last year.
“It’s all for the same intention: to facilitate the outreach of science at a sectoral level,” Gooley says.
“The workshop we just delivered continues that process, launching Next Generation Climate Projections for the Western Tropical Pacific.
“We’re now collecting feedback to make sure that we can meet the identified needs of the partner countries and sectors, and we’ll build case studies over the next 18 months to implement new products and services.”
Bringing the region together in one place, at one time
The Pacific Meteorological Council (PMC) meeting, which Gooley is about to attend, is a biennial event held with the purpose of discussing issues such as weather, climate, climate change, oceans and hydrological issues.
It’s a blend of plenary presentations, discussions and side events.
“[The meeting] is drawing the Pacific countries back to the drawing board on the value of science, and the importance of good data to stocktake the current situation and to inform the future,” Crawley told the Samoa Observer.
“It brings all partner countries and the national meteorological services together in one place at one time,” Gooley says.
“Various national governments, international donors, development banks, development agencies, regional organisations, and technical service providers also attend.”
Maiai adds: “The leveraging of other projects to support other countries and reach other sectors is a win-win situation for both the vulnerable and the donor for return of investment.”
The decade-long partnership with SPREP takes on-board the many lessons learned to date, with CSIRO gaining a deeper understanding of Pacific stakeholder needs.
“Our strong partnership continues to seek new and innovative methods and approaches to bring the science to services and to better inform and mainstream science into national, sector and community plans,” Maiai says.
Gooley adds, “to this day the Pacific region remains one of the most climate smart in the world because it’s actively using the science to work towards building greater resilience to climate change impacts.”.
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
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