Capacity enhancement for the Pacific

Kanayathu Koshy and Liza Philip discuss the support needed for Pacific Island Countries to respond effectively to climate change.

Kanayathu Koshy is Director of, and Liza Philip is a Post Graduate Volunteer at, the Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development based at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji.

Current climate scenarios place Pacific Island Countries amongst the most vulnerable to the projected impacts of climate change. The small physical size, isolation, limited natural and human resources, high economic sensitivity, high population growth and poorly developed infrastructure contribute to the vulnerability of these island countries.

These factors have been duly recognized in the 2001 Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – seeTiempo, Issue 40/41, September 2001.

Many small island states are already experiencing the effects of current interannual variations in oceanic and atmospheric conditions. The IPCC Third Assessment Report states that the tropical Pacific region is predicted to experience a rise in average temperature by as much as 0.1oC per decade and a sea-level rise of 2 mm/yr. El Niño-like conditions are expected to become more common.

The most significant and more immediate consequences of global warming for small island states are likely to be related to changes in rainfall regimes, to soil moisture budgets, to prevailing winds (both speed and direction), to short-term variations in regional and local sea levels and to patterns of wave action.

Sea-level rise will have a higher impact on low-lying islands and coral atolls, such as the Federated States of Micronesia, Tuvalu and Kiribati, than on high volcanic islands such as Fiji, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Vital infrastructure and major concentrations of settlements are likely to be at risk for a number of islands given their location at or near present sea level and their proximity to the coast, according to a report of the Pacific Islands Regional Assessment Group in 2001.

Major sectors to take the brunt of the climate impacts will include the water, agriculture and health sectors. It is the coastal sector, though, that will be the most vulnerable. For many coral atolls, this will mean ‘whole island’ vulnerability.

According to the IPCC, it is in countries such as the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, where rainwater is the main source of freshwater supply, that more frequent and intense El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events will impose further stress on an already limited water supply.

Climate change is projected to exacerbate health problems such as heat-related illnesses, cholera, dengue fever and biotoxin poisoning. The IPCC Third Assessment Report notes that this would place additional stress on the already overextended health systems of most Pacific Island Countries.

It has been suggested that C3 crops (most tropical crops) will benefit from carbon dioxide fertilization. There are indications, however, that the effect on sugarcane and maize yields which are C4 crops will be adverse due to increased competition from C3 weeds, as Cynthia Rosenzweig and Daniel Hillel state in their 1998 book Climate Change and the Global Harvest. Crops such as the staple taro have a low tolerance to salinization of the soil.

Pacific Island Countries must develop existing and new capacities to cope with climate variability and change, so as to increase the resilience of societies, of natural systems, and of economies. They must also ensure that their limited contribution to the problem through greenhouse gas emissions does not grow unacceptably.

These two major responses to the climate threat, mitigation and adaptation, are considered in this article.


Pacific Island Countries are, at present, heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Thomas Jensen of the Forum for Energy and Development observed in a report made in 2000 that renewable energy, mostly through hydropower, is estimated to contribute less than ten per cent of each Pacific Island Country’s commercial energy use. The only exception to this was Fiji where hydropower accounts for up to 80 per cent of the electricity production.

The Fijian Department of Energy reported in 2000 that the Pacific Islands Renewable Energy Project expects to facilitate the widespread implementation and, ultimately, the commercialization of renewable energy technologies. This project will greatly assist in establishing a suitable enabling environment for the use of renewable energy resources.

Otherwise, the Pacific region is characterized by scattered and fragmented efforts to promote renewable energy technologies, many of which are based on unreliable and unsubstantiated data on renewable energy resource potentials.

The latest resource book for sea level rise and climate change in the South Pacific, edited by John Hay of the International Global Change Institute in New Zealand, deals with the varied energy responses. Fuel substitution, energy efficiency and forestry are seen as the main options available. The book Climate and Sea-level Variability and Change in the Pacific Islands Region: A Resource Book for Policy and Decision Makers, Educators and other Stakeholders will be available in late 2002.

Fuel substitution would occur through the use of cleaner fuels and renewable energy technologies. Greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced or would at least be stabilized through more efficient use of the presently available fuels through both supply-side management and demand-side management measures. The forestry sector could be targeted to produce a sustainable supply of trees for fuel-wood and/or to act as a carbon sink. Forestry practice measures can be seen as multipurpose, not only aimed at providing a sustainable supply of wood but also serving as carbon sinks, wind breaks and shading and to prevent erosion.

In a report by the National Environmental Trust in the United States, published in 2000, Mahendra Kumar and Anirudh Singh from the University of the South Pacific listed the types of renewable energy sources which are available to Pacific Island Countries: hydropower, biomass, biogas, biofuels, solar, wind, ocean energy, geothermal power and hybrid systems.

Small-scale pilot projects have been undertaken in the Pacific. Thomas Jensen’s report states that there are seven operational micro-hydro projects in Fiji ranging from three to 100 kilowatts. Wood waste from a pinewood sawmill in Fiji has also been used to cogenerate electricity to three megawatts. The Fiji Sugar Cooperation uses bagasse for electricity generation for its own use and the surplus is sold to the Fiji Electricity Authority. Another island country, Samoa, has shown interest in the area of hydropower generation.

The response in the future within the energy sector may well be a hybridization or partial use of fossil fuels together with other viable renewable energy sources.

Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects need to be promoted in Pacific Island Countries as a means to improve energy efficiency in industrial operations. Local industries are largely dependent on foreign assistance through appropriate technology transfer for improvements.

In 2000, the Fijian Department of Environment reported that the cement factory, Fiji Industries, has worked on improving its energy efficiency through various in-house initiatives since 1998. One significant initiative has been to modify and improve combustion for efficiency, a step which included staff training. This had the immediate effect of reducing the company’s carbon dioxide production by 20,000 tonnes per annum.

A final mitigation process needed is for the Pacific Island Countries to complete national inventories of their ozone-depleting substances and to continue to phase out these substances with more environmentally-friendly substitutes.

The Department of Environment in Fiji, in its identification of training and appropriate technology transfer as being the two most important components of capacity building, is encouraging a greater participation in CDM projects for the phasing out of ozone-depleting substances in Fiji and at the regional level.


According to the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report, “Adaptation refers to the degree to which adjustments are possible in practices, processes or structures of systems to projected or actual changes in climate.” Adaptive capacity enhancement must take place through the broad framework of sustainable development taking both environmental and socio-economic considerations into account. The following sections deal with the Pacific Islands’ sensitive capacity enhancement requirements.

The main thematic areas identified as a focus for attention are: data and information needs; adaptation mainstreaming and technologies; traditional knowledge; risk assessment and management; and observational capacity building. Maladaptation, an evaluative concept describing the extent to which adaptation fails, also needs to be studied to avoid ineffective development processes, as stressed by the World Bank in their 2000 Report.

Receding foreshores are a reality along the coastlines of islands in Fiji.

© University of the South Pacific

Data and information needs

Data and information are needed in the meteorological, agricultural, coastal, water and health sectors. Environmental and socio-economic baselines for atmospheric, terrestrial, hydrological, demographic, and economic variables need to be generated.

An Australian Bureau of Meteorology Report in 1999, John Hay and Graham Sem in their report to the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme published in 2000,  as well as the IPCC Third Assessment Report, all identified capacity building needs to include:

  • observing systems enhancement in regional meteorological services;
  • methodological development for study of the impacts of climate change on coral reefs, mangroves, seagrasses, mud flats, and so on;
  • better case studies of past adaptation to sea level as a basis for assessing adaptation;
  • better utilization of the tools, techniques and methods used in vulnerability and  adaptation assessments;
  • the application of traditional and non-traditional adaptation mechanisms; and,
  • mechanisms for determining how adaptation options can be integrated with other sectoral plans and scales.

Free or low-cost exchange of existing and new data will be critical for wide access. Don MacIver of the Atmospheric Environmental Service in Canada has pointed out that the most essential change is for new policies and mechanisms to overcome the barriers to accessing existing data sets, inventories and summary data sets.

There is also a need to standardize and digitize both historical and new data for use in data banks or archiving systems. Data quality, data management, and data access must be planned and overseen, which means that the entire process of database development will require enhanced multidisciplinary participation.

Finally, expert advice must be communicated in an effective way to the decision makers of the day. Communication skills are, therefore, of primary importance for advocacy in Pacific Island Countries.

Adaptation mainstreaming

Pacific Island Countries need to mainstream adaptation, with governments taking adaptation into account in any future expenditure and development planning. Necessary legislative and government structures will have to facilitate sustainable development and climate change responses such as mitigation and adaptation within their bureaucratic process.

Adaptation capacity is closely linked to sustainable development policy. If one prioritizes adaptation, the measures taken will depend to some extent upon the types of adaptation options selected in the policy process. Policies including ‘no regrets’ and ‘win-win’ options need to be pursued within the adaptation context but it must be noted that these can complicate the evaluation of adaptation costs and benefits. In circumstances where these measures help to reduce existing vulnerability, independent of climate impacts, Pacific Island governments would be fully justified in reallocating public expenditures and development aid to fund such measures.

The process of mainstreaming should involve wide consultation with stakeholders, adaptation screening for major developments and a strengthening of any socio-economic analyses of adaptation options. This process should also include financial donor support for the ‘no regrets’ adaptation measure, either through autonomous interventions or as part of both natural resources and environmental management programmes.

The international community could act to operationalize adaptation financing through, for example, Clean Development Mechanism projects as well as remove obstacles to immediate action on ‘no regrets’ adaptation measures.

Identification and implementation of any adaptation process should be based on the full spectrum of the local and regional traditional knowledge that is available. Western science does not readily accommodate other perspectives, such as traditional knowledge, even though this knowledge is important for developing suitable adaptive responses for any region.

More peer reviews are required to mainstream traditional knowledge, as often there is confusion about what exactly comprises traditional knowledge and also confusion as to how to access it. Traditional knowledge can cover, for example, systems of land tenure, of social welfare, and of trade as well as methods for coping with natural disasters such as relocation of settlements or villages from impact areas.

The application of traditional indicators as a means to monitoring environmental quality and change, in conjunction with methods based on imported technologies, will do much to contexualize vulnerability and adaptation assessments. There are activities based on traditional knowledge and practised regionally which are important contributions to conservation. These include information as to which traditional crops are best used for coastal re-vegetation, and marine conservation methods such as tabu (no fishing) sites for stock replenishment.

It is generally accepted that ‘no regrets’ cost effective adaptation options should be widely advocated but there is often a need for ‘hard options,’ that is, technology-driven, to be incorporated into the process of adaptation capacity building.

Various engineering methods were documented in 1993 by Hiroaki Ozasa, Takao Itoh and Yasushi Hosokawa of the Ministry of Transport in Japan to  respond to sea-level rise. These include embankments, revetments, jetties, beach nourishment and ecosystem enhancement through coral reef restoration and mangrove planting.

A technological approach can be applied to wave control which could be enhanced through options such as the construction of offshore breakwaters, through artificial reefs which act as submerged breakwaters, through reinforcements, and through raising wharves and piled piers. Sea-walls can protect Pacific Island cities and towns from coastal erosion in densely populated areas. It should be noted, though, that the technological approach should only be used to protect valuable property and buildings that cannot be relocated.

The 2000 World Bank Report suggests that, for new infrastructure, the use of setbacks and relocation can be considered. A setback in this context is a specified zone along the coast that is at risk from coastal erosion. The setback is defined based on coastal erosion rates and places restrictions on construction within the zone due to higher projected risks. This approach has been discussed in detail in the 1999 report, Case Study of Long Beach Island, New Jersey, by James Titus of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The adaptive technologies available and which can be utilized as part of the mainstreaming process are numerous. The IPCC Third Assessment Report in its section on technology transfer includes the following as examples of usable technologies and decision support approaches: satellite remote sensing and tide gauges; historical and geological methods and resource surveys; coastal vulnerability indices and assessment methodologies developed by the IPCC and the United Nations Environment Programme; and printed, audio-visual and interactive tools for awareness building.

The financing of early warning systems and disaster mitigation programmes is essential for the Pacific region. Programmes such as these are beginning to be effectively established. The Coastal Hazard Mapping programme in Samoa, for example, is a step in the right direction for adaptation screening.

There now exists, within the Pacific region, a knowledge base and the institutional arrangements that are sufficient to commence developing in-country programmes as well as regional collaboration. This will ensure that country capacity is developed and risk and disaster management projects are mainstreamed and become core business activities of the different governments.

The South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) in its recent 2002 report outlined just such an initiative. The Comprehensive Hazard and Risk Management (CHARM) initiative will be a major driving force in this direction. SOPAC houses the regional Disaster Management Unit which executes CHARM.

The CHARM guidelines constitute a comprehensive hazard and risk management tool within the context of an integrated national development planning process. These guidelines have been produced to assist the countries of the Pacific region reduce community vulnerability and enhance resilience towards long-term sustainable development.

New cultivars for resistant crops, to drought and disease in particular, are needed. It is essential to engage in climate-proofing our agricultural systems. Research capacity in the area of agriculture and innovative forestry management should be enhanced. Land-use planning and improved seasonal forecasting also need to be part of the wider ‘adaptation package.’ To assist in this the mapping of soil and climate zones, particularly in high islands, would improve the matching of crops and appropriate land use practices.

The Food and Agriculture Organization stated in a 1999 study that the promotion of sustainable production systems and cover crops to improve soil fertility, conserve soil moisture, and prevent soil erosion should be undertaken. This is especially recommended in high islands such as Viti Levu in Fiji. Agroforestry projects can act to create carbon sinks through indigenous tree planting such as coastal vegetation reforestation. These agroforestry activities will also encourage and enhance the commercial use of indigenous forest products by island communities.

Research needs

Research needs to be targeted towards filling the gaps in data and information. There is a need to increase the capacity within the region to undertake modelling, analysis and synthesis activities to increase the information base. Quantitative research capacity needs to be enhanced, as emphasized by John Hay and Graham Sem in their 2000 report for the South Pacific Environmental Programme. Research stations at a national level (working in areas of agriculture, fisheries, health, water quality for instance) should be improved, where necessary, to meet the information needs and also to meet international standards.

From the training assessment made in the region, it is clear that there are specific needs in the area of climate vulnerability and adaptation. One obvious finding was that, in addition to short-term training approaches, long-term training opportunities leading to formal qualifications are also required.

The Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment Training Programme is an excellent example of such an initiative. The programme was developed as part of the Pacific Island Climate Change Assistance Programme (PICCAP). The University of the South Pacific has been providing training through this since 1999 (see Tiempo, Issue 40/41, September 2001). The programme makes use of decision tools that are applicable to multiple sectors:

  • expert judgement;
  • screening of adaptation options;
  • historical or geographic analogues (forecasting by analogy);
  • the Adaptation Decision Matrix;
  • the Tool for Environmental Assessment and Management (TEAM);
  • VandaClim (an integrated assessment model for island countries); and,
  • field studies.

On the research side, observational capacity focuses largely on quantitative measurements of weather and climate variables, forecasting and predictive capacity, particularly of ENSO-related climate variability given its influence in the region. There are other important observational capacities for detection of sea- level changes which need enhancing. These include early warning systems and studies on the winds, on cyclones, on drought and the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone and the South Pacific Convergence Zone as well as the spread of more tide gauges throughout the region. Atmospheric research into variables such as ozone should continue and collaboration with international research initiatives to increase access to this data is important.

The national meteorological services collect data which are utilized in forecasting and warning in the region. They also collect basic data for climate monitoring. However, a number of Pacific Island Countries depend mainly on external support to provide basic climatological services.

Pacific Island Countries are tending towards self-sufficiency and are, by virtue of their island nature, diversifying their economies into areas which are extremely climate-dependent, including forestry, fishing, water resources and tourism. As a result of these trends and their dependencies, climate applications skills and the resources of all the meteorological services are being stretched beyond present capabilities. This problem was acknowledged in a report by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology in 2000 which noted that this applied in particular to the issue of the migration of skilled personnel.

Final remarks

Financing and policy development opportunities must continue to be strengthened to ensure that capacity to respond to climate change through mitigation and adaptation is built and a suitable implementation mechanism is developed. A layered approach to awareness building and skills development needs to be the focus of capacity enhancement activities.

Research facilities to assist in identifying measures for adapting to climate change will need to be upgraded to meet the more sophisticated data and information needs of the Pacific Islands region. It is essential that capacity building be undertaken in all the major sectors of coastal, water, agriculture and health, and most importantly in the climatological services. Traditional knowledge needs to be peer reviewed and better incorporated into policies and adaptation strategies. Finally, financing and policy support mechanisms will need to be strengthened so as to mainstream adaptation measures within the broad framework of sustainable development into the future.

Further information
Kanayathu Koshy, Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development, University of the South Pacific, PO Box 1168, Suva, Fiji. Fax: +679-3-309176. Email: Web:
Liza Philip, Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development, University of the South Pacific, PO Box 1168, Suva, Fiji. Email: Web:

The authors would like to express their appreciation to Mahendra Kumar for his assistance in reviewing this article.