Why understanding and addressing climate security in the Pacific is essential for all of us

Posted June 14, 2022
Group photo

Participants attending the regional workshop on climate security in Suva.

Photo: UNDP

Is climate change threatening the security and wellbeing of Pacific people? In short, yes.

The Pacific has long been identified as a region where the security impacts of climate change will be particularly pronounced. Evidence such as the IPCC reports shows the Pacific region is one of the most exposed regions to worsening climate risks, the impacts of which have the potential to threaten social cohesion, political stability and peace and security. For low-lying atoll nations like Kiribati, Tuvalu, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, climate-related security risks pose greater, even existential risks.

Particularly affected are women and girls, who experience increased vulnerabilities including sexual violence after natural disasters, youth and people with disabilities. However, comprehensive assessments on how climate change impact community, national and regional security risks and how these risks differ among Pacific Island States have so far been lacking. Further, what is needed to address them have also remained elusive.

Marshall Islands

Atoll nations face unique climate-related security challenges. In the picture, islets in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Photo: UNDP

To tackle these challenges, spearhead knowledge gathering and dissemination to help guide regional policy and decision-makers, and coordinate national, regional and international responses, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have embarked on the Climate Security in the Pacific project, funded by the UN Peace Building Fund. The project works closely with key regional and national partners, including the Governments of the three atoll countries mentioned above, the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat (PIFS), the Coalition of Low Lying Atoll Nations on Climate Change (CANCC) and the Pacific Climate Security Network of Experts comprising regional agencies, international and regional academic and institutes.

Adelphi, an international think-thank, has been brought on to lead in supporting national and regional actors identify, understand and address climate-related security risks.  With these objectives in mind, project partners will aim to develop the first ever regional Climate-Security Risk Assessment Framework. The Framework will aim to not only provide region specific analysis on climate security risks, trends and entry points for action, but do so with an eye to support the advancement and implementation of the Boe Declaration Action Plan with a focus on Strategic Area 1: Climate Security. The document will also feature a guide to support member states conduct their own climate security risk assessments. As a first step, and in order to inform this framework, three pilot national climate security risk assessments, on Kiribati, RMI and Tuvalu, are being done concurrently.

Toward these ends, a series of workshops were conducted to support the development of these works, and to ensure findings are locally-rooted and based on the realities and challenges of the Pacific at local, national and regional levels.

Group photo

Participants in RMI, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Suva attending the national workshops.

Photo: UNDP

The national workshops (for Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Republic of Marshall Islands) and the regional workshop, organized with the key support of PIFS, focused on how to identify and assess specific climate-related security risks, as well as discussing entry points to address those risks. Participants included government actors in key ministries and committees, civil society, development partners, CROP (Council of Regional Organizations in the Pacific) agencies and academia.

To support the identification of climate risks, the team utilized the Weathering Risk methodology, identifying five Pacific-specific pathways that map out the interaction between climate change and (in)security. The pathways, based on the review of existing research as well as on inputs collected from interviews and the consultation workshops, include:

  • Loss of land, food and water insecurity: these interlinked risks play a decisive role in low-lying atolls. Water insecurity and loss of land aggravate food insecurity, leading to poor nutrition, loss of traditional food customs, and over-reliance on imports which are often highly processed foods. All these challenges can increase the instability of communities and increase the likelihood of conflict over scarce resources, including disputes over land and water.
  • Challenges to blue economy: the already fragile economy of Pacific Islands (small land mass, limited infrastructure, and reliance on remittances and foreign aid flows), is worsened by climate change. Environmental pressures such as declining fish stocks and loss of land for agriculture threaten livelihoods and economic development, which in turn has the potential to strain social bonds and cohesion.
  • Mobility: a common phenomenon in the Pacific, driven mainly by socio-economic drivers such as employment opportunities and education, mobility has the potential to increase due to worsening environmental impacts, especially on outer and more remote islands. Diminishing land and water resources can lead to internal and external movements. As a last resort adaptation measure, communities might be forced to relocate permanently. Poorly planned relocation processes can be conflict-prone and can be accompanied by dislocation and trauma.
  • Exposure to natural hazards: the increased frequency and severity of natural hazards, such as cyclones, king tides, and droughts affects communities and has a wider impact on the economy, straining government budgets and reducing people's coping capacities. Disasters can directly impact physical security of individuals and communities, and in the absence of proper planning and governance can lead to displacement in extreme cases. Women are more exposed and experience the highest impacts in the contexts of disasters.
  • Territory, maritime boundaries and statehood: sea level rise poses a significant threat to territorial integrity, maritime boundaries and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) across the region. The impact of climate change on fish stocks’ migration patterns can affect governments’ revenue, which heavily depends on fisheries in many Pacific Islands States. As territory is lost, the possibility of planned relocation might become the very last resort adaptation measure. Relocation puts into question traditional statehood, based on population and territory.
Tuvalu wind

Fierce winds hitting a house in Tuvalu.

Photo: UNDP

The country-specific and regional analysis of the pathways included discussions around entry points to address identified climate security risks. Some of the key issues that were raised include the importance of a collective commitment for appropriate representation of the Pacific region in relevant global fora, ensuring mechanisms for the inclusion of vulnerable groups in decision-making processes and the stress on community-centered solutions to address emerging risks, among others. The entry points are meant to support the implementation of the Strategic Focus Area 1 of the Boe Declaration Action Plan, while providing decision-makers with data, evidence and concrete solutions to address climate security in the region.

Island

Tarawa, Kiribati.

Photo: UNDP

Climate change, the ultimate threat multiplier, drives conflict and instability not only in the Pacific but across the world, as it amplifies existing inequalities and puts at risk our pledge to Leave No One Behind. Pacific Island States and communities are facing climate security challenges now, but these very same challenges are already or may soon affect many other countries and regions. Identifying and monitoring climate security risks is key to developing scalable solutions in the Pacific and beyond. UNDP and IOM will continue to work closely with local, national, regional and international partners as part of a collective effort to empower the most vulnerable to respond to climate security threats.