Sep 22, 2017 Last Updated 11:49 PM, Sep 19, 2017

UNLESS you are cocooned in a tourist bubble, it is hardly possible to miss God when you visit the Pacific Islands. In every village and on every main street there seems to be a church or temple, packed to bursting point on holy days.

It is testament to the considerable influence of spirituality on the way people live in the Pacific. Yet almost every well-intentioned outside agency – including those of foreign governments such as Australia and the European Union – that seeks to help the region’s people adapt to the effects of future climate change is drawing up its plans in secular ways, and communicates using secular language. Over some 30 years, most such interventions have failed, proving neither effective nor sustainable.

The answer to the question “why” may in part lie in the sidelining of God. At this point, conversations with representatives of donor organisations often become awkward. Why, they ask, should spirituality have any role in a problem like climate-change adaptation or disaster risk management, which is so clearly framed in human, secular terms?

The answer lies in who does the framing. Far fewer people in most donor programs are spiritually engaged than in the Pacific.

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SINCE Tropical Cyclone Winston made its brutal landfall in the country last year, Fiji has doubled its efforts to building back better and tripled its commitment to combat climate change. Keeping in mind the Paris agreement, individuals and organizations both have since then re-affirmed the importance of sustaining and restoring healthy ecosystems, including coastal areas, particularly for climate adaption purposes. Leadership Fiji 2016 (LF2016) and Mangrove for Fiji in this same spirit joined hands in establishing a mangrove restoration project for Malake Island that had to bear the brunt of the storm last year.

In August last year, the two teams visited Malake Island and built a 1000 propagule nursery. Following that, they made a second visit to the island this year and planted a new record of 6085 mangrove propagules along the coastline. Fiji Leadership 2016 representative James Pridgeon said the team chose Malake to initiate the project with because Ra was one of the badly affected areas during the storm.

“Malake is the biggest village in the Province of Ra. They are still rebuilding their homes and lives 15 months later,” he said.

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R&D - The way forward

Academics to provide climate change impact

EXPECT greater consultation between government and academics – at least in Fiji – as preparations begin for the first Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting this year Fiji will host the first lead authors meeting on Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere for the IPPC in October.

“Research and development is the way forward for us” - Joeli Cawaki Assistant Minister for Agriculture, Natural Disaster Management “This is the first time for a small island country to host the working group of IPCC, so we need to invite people to attend for this working group two and be part of the IPCC processes,” he said. “Disaster management, climate change, meteorology and hydrology are more scientific in nature, so we need to build the capacity of our people in terms of the science to strengthen our case, so that is something that we will need to do and engage the academics from all universities in Fiji and around the region.”

The IPCC is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change that reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change.

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Things fall apart

Tokelau calls for support

FOR close to 40 years the tiny island nation of Tokelau has been without a local meteorological service. That’s ever since New Zealand withdrew direct funding for the facility in the 1980s.

With the ever increasing threat of climate change, this remote state has made an urgent plea for donor support in order to strengthen its meteorological and climate related services. In an interview with Islands Business during the Second Pacific Ministerial meeting on Meteorology (PMMM-2), Minister for Climate Change, Natural Resources, Economic Development and Environment, Kelihiano Kalolo, stressed the Tokelau’s need for assistance.

“We need funding because we don’t have the infrastructure, we would like to give the information to our people, and we would like to have the infrastructure for the dissemination of information,” he said.

“Tokelau in any other country is very small without capacity and resource and we would like people to help us and the pacific to work together, after all, climate change is affecting all of us.” Alluding to Tokelau’s lack of climate service, information and documentation, Tokelau’s Manager for the Department of Economic Development, Natural Resources and Environment, Loia Tausi, told the Pacific Meteorology Council (PMC) meeting had laid out specific needs of the Tokelau meteorology services, calling on donors present in the room for support.

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INTERVIEWED on Radio Australia last month, Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific was spruiking her government’s contribution for the global climate negotiations to be hosted by Fiji next November in Bonn.

Announcing a $6million grant to the secretariat in Suva that will manage preparations for the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP23), Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said: “We are at the coal face here in the Pacific of dealing with issues consequent to climate events.”

It was an unfortunate choice of words. Many Pacific island leaders are hoping that Australia will step away from the coal face! Last month, Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel released a major report on energy security, affordability and emissions reductions. In response, some members of the Turnbull government, including former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, have called for the construction of new coal-fired power stations, funded by government money.

The push to include fossil fuels in new clean energy funding mechanisms comes despite the call from Pacific neighbours for the urgent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions generated by coal and other fossil fuels

This push for coal plants is also played out on the international scene. According to a 2015 report from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Australia hopes to count funds for “clean coal” projects as part of its international climate funding obligation...

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