Climate change adaptation

It isn’t just about the money

By Rebecca McNaught

February 2013

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In the December issue of Islands Business, an article titled “Climate Change in a Coconut Shell” looked at the recent climate negotiations meeting in Vanuatu, rightly making the case that getting help to people in need must be the first priority.

Keeping this in mind is vital as we create adaptation plans and make choices about funding flows.

It is also important to keep at the forefront of planning the knowledge that much can be done now, with little money, to prepare for a more hostile future climate.

The Vanuatu meeting highlighted, as this magazine reported, how we may expect more serious extreme events such as heavy rainfall in the future, and while some changes are gradual, it is the extreme events that will really affect us.

These exacerbated extremes will come on top of a Pacific climate that is already extremely variable, mostly due to the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) that brings us El Niño and La Niña events.

These cause variability in rainfall, cyclones and sea level. For example in Nauru, the country is warmer and wetter during an El Niño year and can receive as much as 4,500mm of rainfall; conversely in a La Niña year, conditions are often drier than normal and the country can receive as little as 500mm of rainfall.

Climate change will exacerbate existing variability by, for example, adding additional warmth to warm years.

It is important that we capitalise on recent advances in climate and weather prediction. In the quest for precise long-term projections for 2100, information that is linked to events closer in time, such as weather and seasonal forecasts, risks being overlooked.

The recent cyclone in Fiji demonstrates that early warning can and does save lives. It also demonstrates that early warning is not an end in itself, but must be linked to communications systems that are active, supportive media outlets and messages that are understood and most importantly acted on.

In a (coco)nut shell, early warning must be linked with early action. Red Cross societies across the Pacific are working with local communities and governments to assist in taking early action to increase people’s safety and resilience.

The regional office of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Suva, Fiji, uses regional seasonal climate updates and keeps a close eye on the status of El Niño and La Niña events as they develop.

They link the potential low or high rainfall periods to specific actions that Red Cross National Societies can take to prepare at a national and community level.

For example, during the 2010–2011 La Niña events, Tuvalu Red Cross used information of probable dry conditions to broadcast advice on its regular radio programme on the best use of water, alongside a hand-washing campaign to minimise diarrhoea outbreaks. Tuvalu Red Cross has more recently worked with the Tuvalu Meteorological Office to erect signs on Funafuti to educate school children about directions used in weather warnings.

In Vanuatu, the Red Cross has been working in the most remote parts of the country. It has been distributing and setting up vital communications systems, running water and sanitation projects  and disaster simulation exercises with communities, and creating action plans with communities to deal with extreme events, as well as longer-term issues such as coastal erosion.

Red Cross is also producing a booklet with ideas for reducing risk that Red Cross branches across the Pacific can easily implement without large amounts of funding and support.

Activities already undertaken include basic first aid, preparedness for disasters, communication of early warning, and disaster relief distribution.

Participatory techniques have included community-led vulnerability identification, and events such as a weather week, movie nights, and radio talkback—all involving volunteers both young and old.

Is it all about the money?

While ongoing discussions on the “polluter pays” principle around climate finance are imperative, adaptation isn’t just about attracting large amounts of funding.

Activities such as those undertaken by the Red Cross show that adaptation isn’t all about big money and big infrastructure projects, but also about ongoing capacity building support to youth, volunteers and communities.

Not only is capacity-building support required on an ongoing basis for climate negotiators, we must recognise that capacity building support is not one-off at the community level but part of ongoing state of preparedness. Building upon the capacity and reducing vulnerability of communities from the inside out, making use of existing systems.

Unfortunately climate change is not going away and we are just starting to get a taste of things to come. There are many low-cost actions that can be taken that are also “no regrets” in that they are achievable now, and also benefit communities regardless of how much climate change manifests itself.

We need to ask ourselves how we can scale-up working with communities, not just see them as passive recipients of top-down advice who must wait for adaptation finance.

Framing the Pacific as vulnerable to climate change has its purposes, and it is. However, we have seen that at the community level, this news can lead to disempowerment and inaction.

Communities have many existing capacities including vital local knowledge that can be capitalised on to address not only the impacts of climate change, but to enhance their overall resilience to wider problems that they face. This should be reflected in the way we frame discussion of climate change in the Pacific.

An opportunity for greater collaboration

Opportunities for partnership and collaboration are borne out of the quest to link climate and weather information to organisational and community based decision making.

The Cloud Nasara (“meeting place”) Pacific Climate Animation Project is an innovative new collaboration between Red Cross, the Australian government’s Pacific-Australia Climate Change Science and Adaptation Planning Program (PACCSAP), the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-hazards Department (VMGD) and the SPC-GIZ Climate Change Programme.

Cloud Nasara aims to increase awareness of the science and impacts of climate variability in the Pacific. It aims to provoke discussion about how communities can access forecast information,  take actions to prepare for future El Niño and La Niña events, and adapt to climate change.

Two short animation films, which will be used as communication tools, are currently in development and due to be released later this year. One film looks at climate processes and impacts in the Pacific as a whole, while the other specifically focuses on the situation in Vanuatu.

The films can be used by organisations, governments, schools, and community groups in Pacific countries and regional bodies across the Pacific. They will come with a tool kit to help facilitators turn the information into action.

The project brings together scientific and community networks, and shows how sharing expertise can lead to more efficient and wider outcomes than can be achieved by working alone.

Everyone working to support adaptation in the Pacific, including donors, regional, national and local agencies, must reach out in a way that acknowledges and builds upon existing capacities. Our planning should be based on the genuine needs of Pacific people and should capitalise on a spirit of community support and volunteerism.

_Rebecca McNaught, based in Vanuatu, is Senior Climate Adviser - Pacific, Red Cross Red Cresent Climate Centre. _

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