Pacific Island Cities Call For A Rethink Of Climate Resilience For The Most Vulnerable

UN-Habitat adaptation planning workshops in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Alexei Trundle (2016)

The impacts of climate change are already being felt across the Pacific, considered to be one of the world’s most-at-risk regions. Small island developing states are mandated extra support under the Paris Agreement. Many are classified as least developed countries, allowing them special access to development funding and loans.

Analysis of climate change adaptation projects in the Pacific shows most focus on rural areas, heavy infrastructure and policy development. Climate change planning for the cities and towns has been limited, despite their rapid growth.

Port Vila, for example, has far outgrown the municipal boundary set out when Vanuatu became independent in 1980. Migration to the urban fringe has resulted in the wider metropolitan area accounting for 26.8% of Vanuatu’s population. These areas are growing at an average rate of 6.6% a year.

The capital of Solomon Islands, Honiara, is experiencing similarly rapid growth. More than a third of its residents live in informal settlements on the city fringes, without legal tenure.

There are few rural economic opportunities and climate change is threatening outer island subsistence crops and fisheries. This means Pacific cities are likely to keep growing for many years to come.

Koa Hill informal settlement in central Honiara is prone to landslips and flash flooding. Alexei Trundle (2017)

‘Not drowning, fighting’

Despite being exposed to extreme weather and rising seas, many inhabitants of Small Island Developing States resist being framed as “climate vulnerable”.

High exposure to extreme weather and little responsibility for the emissions that are making such events worse mean these states often regard characterisations of fragility and weakness as counterproductive. Pacific leaders regularly avoid describing their citizens as vulnerable to climate change, even during international negotiations.

As president of the 23rd UN Climate Conference, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama emphasised that Pacific vulnerability was recognised “not to present our people as victims but to emphasise that their interests are your interests”.

Kiribati’s former president, Anote Tong, recently in Australia advocating for stronger climate action, similarly insists that I-Kiribati “must not relocate as climate refugees but as people who would migrate with dignity”.

Graffiti on the fence of a damaged house in Blacksands, Port Vila, two years after Tropical Cyclone Pam. Alexei Trundle (2017)

Communities also focus on their strengths in the face of natural disasters. In March 2015 Tropical Cyclone Pam devastated Vanuatu. In the capital, Port Vila, it destroyed 30% of dwellings. The losses were equivalent to 64.1% of national GDP.

In the aftermath local musician Bobby Shing released a single titled “Resilience”. The song relates the roles of culture, religion and “standing strong”.

“Resilience” echoed a national mood to rebuild and move forward. It also acknowledged the wealth of traditional knowledge for dealing with natural hazards in the world’s most disaster-prone country.

 Artists Tujah (Bobby Shing), KC and ALA of Port Vila express their views on resilience following Tropical Cyclone Pam.

Rethinking climate resilience

Climate change adaptation in Pacific island cities is challenging for a number of reasons.

The United Nations Human Settlements Program, UN-Habitat, focuses specifically on adapting developing cities to climate change. As the UN’s peak body for cities it is responsible for implementing the New Urban Agenda. It is also spearheading Sustainable Development Goal 11, the “urban” SDG.

Working with Australian academics, local government and civil society, UN-Habitat is developing urban resilience and climate adaptation plans in Honiara and Port Vila.

Recently published research reflecting on these two projects sheds light on the ways that “climate-resilient development” in Pacific cities needs to be done differently.

1) Target those who need help most

Informal settlements are the most vulnerable parts of Pacific cities. These vulnerability hotspots often occupy hazardous land such as floodplains where formal development is prohibited. They usually lack basic services such as piped water and electricity. When disaster strikes, the impacts are worst for these communities.

A lack of formal recognition can also stand in the way of disaster relief, voting rights and access to facilities such as health clinics. This further reduces the capacity of these communities to recover from disaster.

A spatial assessment of Honiara’s climate vulnerability shows the overlap between ‘hotspots’ and informal settlements. Honiara Urban Resilience & Climate Action Plan (UN-Habitat 2016)

Climate change planning should therefore prioritise the most vulnerable settlements at a sub-city scale. Initial efforts to understand the most vulnerable can then provide a baseline for wider city planning. This can ensure scarce adaptation resources are distributed more equitably.

2) Take land tenure into account

“Informal” encompasses many different ways of urban living beyond the renter/owner norms of developed nations.

Some households informally subdivide their land for extended family members. Other communities hold collective leasehold. Some have arrangements with traditional owners, renting through cash or customary payments.

Each type of informality modifies which climate adaptation options are feasible. For instance, communities might share sanitation facilities or water sources, making communal infrastructure preferable. Customary owners might restrict the “permanence” of structures built in an area.

Informal settlement areas in Blacksands, a large peri-urban community on customary land in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Alexei Trundle (2017)

3) Allow for ‘bottom-up’ resilience

Formal and informal communities in the Pacific often rely heavily on their own networks and capabilities when hit by a natural disaster. Without understanding these systems, international development efforts can undermine “bottom-up” resilience.

Participatory approaches ensure communities can determine their own adaptation needs. This also prevents outside actors from imposing their own assumptions and worldviews about how Pacific cities work.

An informal water supply in Koa Hill, Honiara. Church-based community structures manage the pipes that distribute drinking water to subgroups of households. Alexei Trundle (2017)

Sovereignty, agency and aid

Much has been made of Australia’s Pacific “step up”, with a bipartisan commitment to supporting the region’s adaptation efforts. Nonetheless climate change remains a major point of tension between Pacific island states and the region’s largest fossil fuel

A starting point for development partners like Australia should be recognising the importance of sovereignty and identity to Pacific Islanders. Calls for “constitutional condominiums” with low-lying countries serve only as reminders of Australia’s 20th-century colonial past.

Helping communities with engineering, geographic information systems (GIS) and climate analysis can enable them to make their own informed adaptation decisions.

Support to train construction specialists, urban planners and climate scientists will provide a platform for resilience building.

The cities of the Pacific are sometimes referred to as hybrid spaces. They blur traditional culture and customs with the global opportunities that lie beyond the “Sea of Islands”.

As Pacific Islanders urbanise, so too should adaptation efforts and finance. But, first, climate resilience must be understood as the most vulnerable understand it.

About The Author

Alexei Trundle, PhD Candidate, Australian-German Climate & Energy College, University of Melbourne and Darryn McEvoy, Research professor, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities

by Peter Plastrik , John Cleveland
1610918495The future of our cities is not what it used to be. The modern-city model that took hold globally in the twentieth century has outlived its usefulness. It cannot solve the problems it helped to create—especially global warming. Fortunately, a new model for urban development is emerging in cities to aggressively tackle the realities of climate change. It transforms the way cities design and use physical space, generate economic wealth, consume and dispose of resources, exploit and sustain the natural ecosystems, and prepare for the future. Available On Amazon

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert
1250062187Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Available On Amazon

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats

by Gwynne Dyer
1851687181Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival. Prescient and unflinching, Climate Wars will be one of the most important books of the coming years. Read it and find out what we’re heading for. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

LATEST VIDEOS

Mexico Puts US To Shame On Climate Action, But New President's Pledge On Oil Industry Is Worrying
Mexico Puts US To Shame On Climate Action, But New President's Pledge On Oil Industry Is Worrying
by Thomas L Muinzer
As if there was any doubt, the UN’s latest report on climate change makes clear this is one of the most pressing issues…
Deep Sea Carbon Reservoirs Once Superheated The Earth – Could It Happen Again?
Deep Sea Carbon Reservoirs Once Superheated The Earth – Could It Happen Again?
by Lowell D. Stott
As concern grows over human-induced climate change, many scientists are looking back through Earth’s history to events…
Climate Change Alters What's Possible In Restoring Florida's Everglades
Climate Change Alters What's Possible In Restoring Florida's Everglades
by Gardner William Nuttle
The Everglades are a vast network of subtropical freshwater wetland and estuarine ecosystems that once spanned the…
The US Defense Department Is Worried About Climate Change – And Also A Huge Carbon Emitter
The US Defense Department Is Worried About Climate Change – And Also A Huge Carbon Emitter
by Neta C. Crawford
Scientists and security analysts have warned for more than a decade that global warming is a potential national…
Blue Ocean Event : Game Over?
by Just Have a Think
A Blue Ocean Event, or Ice-Free Arctic, is the source of almost fever pitch speculation in the climate science world.…
Climate Change - The Facts by Sir David Attenborough
by David Attenborough, BBC
After one of the hottest years on record, Sir David Attenborough looks at the science of climate change and potential…
Why it’s time to think about human extinction
by Kerwin Rae
After listening to this ep with Dr David Suzuki, you’ll never be the same again. The environmentalist, activist,…
Record Temperatures 20-25C Above Norm in far North
by Paul Beckwith
The Northwest Territories of Canada had March temperatures above 20C for the first time (hit 21.6C or 71F); breaking…

LATEST ARTICLES

Protesting Against Air Pollution Crisis, Extinction Rebellion Stalls Rush-Hour Traffic in London
Protesting Against Air Pollution Crisis, Extinction Rebellion Stalls Rush-Hour Traffic in London
by Jessica Corbett
Campaigners in the city's southeastern borough carried signs that read "This Air Is Killing Us" and "Let Lewisham…
Mexico Puts US To Shame On Climate Action, But New President's Pledge On Oil Industry Is Worrying
Mexico Puts US To Shame On Climate Action, But New President's Pledge On Oil Industry Is Worrying
by Thomas L Muinzer
As if there was any doubt, the UN’s latest report on climate change makes clear this is one of the most pressing issues…
Why Canada Risks Being Left Behind In Low-Carbon Economy
Why Canada Risks Being Left Behind In Low-Carbon Economy
by Sean Cleary and Ryan Riordan
Earlier this spring, the most in-depth analysis to date on Canada’s changing climate provided clear evidence that…
Limiting Warming To 1.5C Could Prevent Thousands Of Heat Deaths In US Cities
Limiting Warming To 1.5C Could Prevent Thousands Of Heat Deaths In US Cities
by Thomas Harrisson
Holding global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, rather than 2C or 3C, could help prevent thousands…
Healthcare In World’s Largest Economies ‘accounts For 4%’ Of Global Emissions
Healthcare In World’s Largest Economies ‘accounts For 4%’ Of Global Emissions
by Josh Gabbatiss
CO2 emissions from healthcare in the world’s largest economies account for about 5% of their national carbon…
File 20180124 72597 1twk9y1.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
Biomining The Elements Of The Future
by Marcos Voutsinos, University of Melbourne
Biomining is the kind of technique promised by science fiction: a vast tank filled with microorganisms that leach metal…
What George Bush And The Neocons Can Teach Us About Fighting Climate Change
What George Bush And The Neocons Can Teach Us About Fighting Climate Change
by Ash Murphy
Be under no illusion, the world is losing the fight against climate change. The amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere…
Deep Sea Carbon Reservoirs Once Superheated The Earth – Could It Happen Again?
Deep Sea Carbon Reservoirs Once Superheated The Earth – Could It Happen Again?
by Lowell D. Stott
As concern grows over human-induced climate change, many scientists are looking back through Earth’s history to events…