Working together to understand climate change risks in Fiji
By Katherine Baker, Denis Jordy, Habiba Gitay, Simone Esler and Stéphane Hallegatte
People read about climate change every day and we are all familiar with it as a concept. While we understand that steps need to be taken to address the risks, its impact is harder to imagine. We often assume that the impacts are something we will experience many years from now. But in the Pacific, the impacts are already being felt by communities. This came across clearly through our work on the Climate Vulnerability Assessment – Making Fiji Climate Resilient report, which the Fijian Government produced with support from our team, and which was launched recently at COP23.
Working with the Government of Fiji and a wide range of experts across a broad range of sectors really brought the story of climate change to life, making the impact on the everyday lives of Fijian’s clearer to the team.
Coming together to track vulnerability
As a team we tried to answer some questions fundamental to Fiji’s future:
- How do we better understand Fiji’s current exposure to natural hazards, and how may this change in the future due to climate change?
- What will the economic impacts be?
- What sort of impact will climate change have on poverty levels, and the well-being of Fijians?
- What needs to be done to strengthen the country’s climate resilience? How much will it cost and how do we prioritise investments to protect the most vulnerable areas, sectors and social groups?
Important questions to a complex challenge
These are important questions, but responding to them and delivering the Climate Vulnerability Assessment was a challenging task. Studying and quantifying the impacts across an entire country’s people and its economy really puts the complexities of this topic into perspective. What does climate change mean for Fiji’s roads or electricity? Or for its health system, or its schools? What can be done to make Fiji’s towns more resilient?
There are myriad interconnections across a broad range of sectors, and the team began by looking at Fiji’s national development plans and then considering the threats climate change poses to these plans.
One of the main innovative features of the report is the fact that it does not only assess the physical vulnerabilities, but also social vulnerabilities and links to poverty. This was done by using the ‘Unbreakable’ model; a way of assessing vulnerability that moves beyond considering only asset and production losses, to also consider how natural disasters affect well-being.
This required much coordination between experts from around the world across sectors including housing/land use, hazard management, transport, water, energy, health, education, environment, agriculture, fisheries and social protection.
What we learned
Some of the key findings include:
- 25,700 people are already being pushed into poverty each year due to cyclones and floods. Assuming a stable economy and population, this is likely to increase, to 32,400 people each year by 2050, due to climate change
- The growing cost of climate change-related disasters is likely to rise significantly by 2050, with projections that climate change could result in floods and cyclones that lead to asset losses up to 30 percent higher than current averages.
- Last year’s Tropical Cyclone Winston impacted 540,400 people (62 per cent of the population) and caused losses of F$2 billion (20 per cent of Fiji’s GDP). Climate change will increase the likelihood of events like Winston happening again.
- Work to strengthen climate resilience will have significant financial implications for Fiji, with investment needs estimated at FJ$9.3 billion (US$4.5 billion) over 10 years, plus additional maintenance and operational costs and social protection costs.
Crucially, the Climate Vulnerability Assessment doesn’t just spell out the scale of the challenge; it also includes a clear plan of action for how Fiji can tackle that challenge. Our team supported the development of a costed, comprehensive list of 125 interventions to strengthen the climate resilience of Fiji. This includes recommended investments in critical infrastructure such as roads, bridges, jetties, schools and hospitals, water and electricity supplies, as well as investments in agriculture and coastal protection, together with enhancements to the country’s social protection systems to provide greater protection to Fiji’s most vulnerable.
There is no doubt that the facts our team gathered make for tough reading, both for Fiji and for other Pacific and small island countries whose geographic, economic and social circumstances share many parallels.
Having worked alongside Fiji’s climate change team for the past four months on this significant report, it is clear that they have a fierce determination to ensure that their country’s vulnerability is reduced and the impact of climate change doesn’t affect their development goals now and for generations to come.