Climate Change

Small islands, whether located in the tropics or higher latitudes, have characteristics which make them especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, sea-level rise, and extreme events (very high confidence) ♦  Sea-level rise is expected to exacerbate inundation, storm surge, erosion and other coastal hazards, thus threatening vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities that support the livelihood of island communities (very high confidence). ♦  There is strong evidence that under most climate change scenarios, water resources in small islands are likely to be seriously compromised (very high confidence). ♦  It is very likely that subsistence and commercial agriculture on small islands will be adversely affected by climate change (high confidence). IPCC 4th Assessment Report, 2007

Climate Change and Food Security
Thursday, 06 May 2010 11:52

Climate change poses the most significant long-term threat to food security and traditional livelihoods in the region, and adaptation costs will be disproportionately high relative to national incomes. Appropriate policies and strategies need to be put in place to ensure that communities are equipped with the necessary skills and tools to adapt to these changes in order to minimise the economic, social and cultural costs associated with climate change. Land-use change, in particular deforestation, also contributes to the problem and appropriate incentives need to be put in place to reduce the current rates of forest loss and degradation.

Pacific leaders have recognised the urgency of addressing climate change impacts and have prioritised action on climate change under the Pacific Plan in 2008 and 2009.

Climate change impacts

Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns will affect agricultural yields and the type of crops that can be grown. Increasingly extreme rainfall patterns may result in production losses due to heat stress, drought conditions and waterlogging, increased flooding of river catchments and soil erosion.

Climate induced changes in rainfall pattern, temperature and wind directions could also result in the introduction and establishment of new pests and disease carrying vectors, especially insects, further threatening production. These diseases can include zoonotic diseases, diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans threatening livestock populations and human health. Predicted increases in humidity levels, which are supportive of plant fungal diseases, are capable of wiping out crops, as occurred with taro leaf blight in Samoa in the 1990s. These changes in pest and disease status and occurrences can also affect a country’s ability to access export markets or lose existing markets.

Significant proportions of the population in Pacific Island Countries and Territories live in coastal areas. Sea-level rises will increase coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion will contaminate groundwater sources leading to the loss of productive land.

Atolls countries are in a uniquely vulnerable position to sea-level rises given the limited agricultural land currently available. Increased salt water intrusion will further limit what can be grown in these harsh environments and will exacerbate the existing threats to food security. This is likely to increase reliance on imported processed food stuffs and worsen existing health problems relating to lifestyle diseases. Managing water resources may become more difficult and costly as a result of changes in rainfall patterns and salt water intrusion.

Climate change will also contribute to the erosion of genetic diversity in the region and the interaction of agro-biodiversity within food and agriculture ecosystems. Disruption to ecosystem services such as pollination, soil fertilisation and the natural biological control of plant and animal pests will also threaten food production.

Mainstreaming climate change into agriculture and forestry policies and plans

Climate change will have significant impacts on the agriculture and forestry sectors and policies and plans that govern the allocation of resources and activities in these sectors therefore have to be developed or reviewed with these impacts in mind.

Mainstreaming climate change adaptation involves incorporation of measures, strategies and information that reduce vulnerability to climate change into policies, strategies, programmes, development planning, institutions and decision-making processes.

Climate change projects in the agriculture and forestry sectors

The Pacific Island Framework for Adaptation to Climate Change (PIFACC) provides the regional framework for climate change related projects in the Pacific. The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) acts as secretariat to the Framework and other CROP and International agencies contribute its implementation.

Crop adaptation

A climate-change-ready collection of crops is being established at the Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) to ensure that Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) have access to planting material with climate ready traits, such as drought and salt tolerance.

GTZ ‘Adapting to Climate Change in the Pacific Islands Region’

In partnership with German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community are supporting Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu to manage their response to the challenges and opportunities posed by climate change. This includes developing adaptation strategies for the agriculture and forestry sectors and integrating climate change into policies in these sectors.

Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change (PACC)

This project is coordinated by SPREP and is being implemented in 13 Pacific Island Countries.  Fiji, Palau, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands will focus on food production and food security.

Further reading

SPC Policy Brief: Agriculture, forestry and climate change

FAO: Climate change and food security in Pacific Island Countries

IPPC: Small islands (Ch 16 of Working Group II’s 4th Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

Barnett, J (2007) Food security and climate change in the South Pacific

WWF South Pacific: Climate change community toolkit

CTA: Spore special issue ‘Climate Change’ August 2008