F-factor in climate change, disaster merger

Pacific slow in integration pace

By Dionisia Tabureguci

August 2013

Share this article

The “Finance-factor” stands out as a wildcard in discussions last month surrounding the integration of work to tackle two major forces that affect countries in the region—climate change and natural disasters.
Just how the funding structure will pan out is a bit of a grey area at this point, as the two disciplines are aligned to fund accessibility in different manners, procedures and qualifying criteria. Some are concerned that merging the two will dilute the visibility of one, while others are of the opinion that while merging does make sense as the two do overlap in many areas, little focus is being put on dealing with aspects where they do not overlap.

The talks surrounding the merger are not new. Guiding documents on disaster risk management and climate change adopted by leaders in the region both expire in 2015 and a combined regional strategy to replace them was endorsed by Pacific leaders in 2011.
Last month’s ‘first in the world’ joint meeting in Fiji of common stakeholders—among them government representatives, non-state actors, regional organisations and donor agencies—provided an opportunity for extended dialogue on what the merger is likely to look like.
Although the finance element was thrashed out and remains unchartered waters, it was found that a number of countries in the region were well ahead in the implementation of their Joint National Action Plans (JNAPs).
At this stage however, climate change and disaster risk management are still being looked at as separate entities despite the belief in some quarters that they are “two sides of the same coin” and that, according to Jimmie Rodgers, Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), might actually be a limiting factor in consolidating finance for an integrated portfolio, whether regional or national.
“The more we continue to address these two schools as two independent things, the more problems we have,” Rodgers said in an interview with ISLANDS BUSINESS.

Climate variability

Regional technical work on disaster risk management are being executed through the SPC’s SOPAC division.
“Because ultimately, as a result of climate change you have disasters. I think climate change as a term is unfortunately slightly misused because climate change is over a long-term period and you can only measure it in long-term of, say, 50 years, 100 years. And it’s cyclical.
“What we actually have now is a phenomenon called climate variability. So if you were to ask whether, in the last five years, major climatic events in the Pacific have changed compared to the previous five years, the answer would be yes. Because in the last five years, we’ve had more severe floods and cyclones.
“If you were to compare that with five years previously, the answer would be no. Some people look at that as part of climate change and yet others look at that as disasters. So this is why it is difficult for me to see why climate change is taken differently and separated from disasters. And the best way for me to argue for financing is to actually use the disaster hook,” Rodgers said.
“For people like us in not being able to clearly articulate or differentiate between climate change being a longer term phenomenon therefore, the investment is long-term, and the climatic variability events like cyclones and floods, which we call disasters and which are more often and more frequent, the question I ask is if in this context frequent cyclones and flooding is due to patterns of climatic variability and part of climate change and yet we call them disasters, then why are we separating them?
“I think sometimes we are so used to one thing that we might be afraid of pushing what might be the appropriate agenda, which is how do we present the region and its vulnerability in such a way that we can secure resources for the risks such as climatic events and disasters.
“And if we are to go in a joint framework, we do need to put those concerns forward,” Rodgers said when asked whether the merger could possibly jeopardise the ability of each to secure much needed finance.


Typically, millions of dollars are available via international funding agencies for the climate change agenda. It is not a secret that the Pacific region is among the most vulnerable in the world to the expected impacts of climate change.
A number of Pacific Islands Countries (PICs) have been identified to be among the most vulnerable to natural hazards like tropical cyclones and earthquakes.
However, while scientifically-based risk assessment are now available for some PICs on their exposure to natural disasters and financing products are now available to them through such projects as the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative (PCRAFI), the same cannot be said on their exposure to climate change.
While indeed funding for climate change is available, accessing them is often said to be very difficult and there is recognition of the need to delicately negotiate this issue when integration is being carried out.
“I think it’s important that in any joint strategy, we don’t lose sight of the fact that leaders have said that climate change is the biggest challenge facing our region,” said David Sheppard, Director-General of the Apia-based Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), that provides member countries with technical assistance on climate change and the environment.
“And also obviously, natural disasters are major and we know the growing challenges associated with the changes in climate and that there are logical reasons why we should integrate them. But we have to make sure that any joint effort adds value to our case to strengthen the funding that’s coming in through to PICs.
“There are established mechanisms such as the climate financing mechanisms. The argument we’ve often heard from international agencies is the problem of capacity, of not being able to adequately spend the money. By actually linking systems, making agencies more effective, we are in fact improving some of the processes for being able to accept, spend and deliver funding,” Sheppard told ISLANDS BUSINESS.
“We’ve also heard from a number of countries about how they’re trying to improve their own systems so that they can be better able to directly access those funding instruments. So that the issue of sustainable finance is linked to strengthening agencies at national level to make sure that any efforts to integrate does not dilute the case that’s being made and in fact does support it as much as possible,” Sheppard added.
Institutional strengthening has happened in different ways across the Pacific. Cook Islands for instance has done what many other PICs are doing—put its climate change department and disaster risk management under one ministry.
It has also set up a disaster relief fund which it said it will invest to prepare it for the impacts of extreme weather events like tropical cyclones. A review of its Disaster Risk Management Act is now taking place and that promises for more cohesion between the Cook Islands’ DRM and climate change portfolios.
“We now have a disaster trust fund to help quicken response during disasters. That was one of the problems during Cyclone Pat (in 2010) when we were trying to recruit the different ministries, especially when you’re dealing with the outer islands, you have to fly engineers in to do assessments, fly resources out to the outer islands.
“Of course, the first thing they will ask is who will pay for it. You know those early three days are crucial so with this trust fund, we’re not going to worry about who’s going to fund disaster relief,” said Charles Carlson, Director Emergency Management Cook Islands.
In other PICs such as Tonga, integration is still a long way off, with climate change still a department under its Ministry of Lands and DRM an arm of the Ministry of Infrastructure. Tonga’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure Samiu Vaipulu was convinced, after last month’s discussion, that merging the two was the best way forward.
But a PIC that stands out as having successfully strengthened institutional structure by merging its national disaster work with its climate change brief is Vanuatu, which started integration work in 2005.
It now has a National Advisory Board on Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction, under which all work relating to the two areas are consolidated. That has paid off hugely, especially in terms of dealing with the financing element. If other PICs are struggling in this area, Vanuatu has found a way not only to merge the two but to access finance using its very well organised institutional structure.
Within its national advisory board is a project management unit that manages all operations of integration
“Because of the initiative that we have taken and with a lot of awareness and emphasis, the government saw the importance and the need to establish a new ministry, which is now the Ministry of Climate Change.
“The ministry basically looks after meteorology and geo-hazard, climate change, energy, environment, and the national disaster management office. And that was the best decision that our ministers made in order to take the issues of disaster risk management and climate change adaptation forward,” said National Advisory Board co-chair Jotham Napat.


“The project management unit is the overall coordinating body. They work closely with or establish linkages with the other sectors. We know that disaster risk reduction and climate change are developing issues and also cross cutting issues.
“So we work with those other agencies in order to mainstream these two elements into the corporate planning, into their business planning and also into their budgetary processes because we know the impacts of climate change will become more severe and so the policy that the Ministry of Climate Change is driving is to mainstream the two elements into all the sectors, so that they address food security, infrastructure, climate proofing, etc,” Napat added.
While recognising the difficulties of accessing finance, Napat said Vanuatu has successfully aligned its institutional structure, together with its National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA) to access donor funding for adaptation work such as food security, coastal management and community resilience.
“We have actually accessed the funds under NAPA—11 million Euros from the EU and the World Bank. And we have five key priority areas that were identified under NAPA which the funds will be used for,” said Napat.
Vanuatu has by far put forward the most advanced model for seamless integration, aligned with updated legislation but it is by no means a model that all PICs must follow.
All PICs, said Sheppard, have integrated at varying degrees. Some countries are guided by their JNAP while those without JNAPs are integrating the two as a way of conserving resources and eliminating duplications.
But come 2015 when the new regional guiding document on an integrated climate change and disaster risk management work is expected to come into force, what can we expect moving forward as a region with known vulnerabilities to these natural forces?
“I have no doubt that we will have an integrated strategy by 2015 and that’s from a regional level. At the national level, possibly many of the countries will have not only the integrated strategy, many of them will be like Vanuatu where they have already put in place mechanisms for coordination in-country,” said Rodgers.
“How do we get financing into the region to support this joint work? The first thing that developing partners will look at is: are we a vulnerable region? And that will be articulated in the joint framework. We are. Why? And that will be articulated.
“Then the next question will be: what are the areas of investment and this is where the joint strategy will clearly identify? If you were to invest in 10 things in the region and investment in these three will give you 80% of the results, then development partners will probably look at the three and then the others.
“And this where at country-level they will be very interested to see if the countries have a legitimate framework.
“For example, Vanuatu has a legitimate framework and nice mechanisms, government processes, accountability mechanism. This will allow them to invest with confidence.
“Vanuatu’s point becomes important because they can clearly say if you’re interested to invest, this is where we would like you to consider, but please do not make your financial situation too difficult. Now, the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), their processes are very tough.
“The World Bank, processes are tough. Asian Development Bank processes are tough. Those three in particular, between them because they’re banks, they have a lot of money but they’re also very difficult, with various levels of accountability. Whereas the bilateral ones, Australia, they’re much simpler; and the European Union?
“I would put them between say countries like Australia and the GEF, they’re well known in the region, their processes are difficult but we know them so it’s not an issue. But the three that in my view are difficult are the World Bank, ADB and GEF and perhaps the discussions around donors to be more flexible are probably targeted at them.
“So I think the new framework will be passed, it will raise funds, it will be a good one with milestones, indicators to measure progress so, looking ahead, if more countries are like Vanuatu, that’s good at regional level and I think we’ll get there,” said Rodgers.

« More articles from August 2013 edition

...or view more articles related to these topics:

...or try these related articles: