Climate Risk Management for Pacific Island- A Case Study for Vanuatu

Vanuatu comprises over 80 islands, of which 68 are inhabited, and has a population of around 240,000 people. It has a combined land area of 14,760 km2 and a maritime exclusive economic zone of 680,000 km2. Like most small island nations, the coastal zone is the hub of economic activities in Vanuatu. The vast majority of the population is concentrated in the narrow strip of the coastal zone, as most islands are volcanic with a mountainous terrain in the interior of most islands. Nearly 75% of the population live in rural areas and engage in subsistence, rain-fed agriculture. While coastal fisheries contribute significantly to food security, many life-supporting coastal ecosystems are increasingly under stress from climate change and other human-induced impacts.

Vanuatu experiences severe tropical cyclones during the summer months of December to February; long dry spells associated with the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cool phase March to November, and frequent earthquakes and seismic activity due to its location along the “Pacific Ring of Fire”. According to the Commonwealth Vulnerability Index, Vanuatu ranks as the world’s most vulnerable country due to its high exposure to natural disasters, scattered island geography, narrow economic base, inadequate communication and transportation networks, and limited capacity to cope with disasters, including climate change. In the Pacific region, the highest concentration of cyclones occurs in the area of Vanuatu; which experiences cyclonic activities most years.

The impacts of climate change have serious consequences on the coastal environment in Vanuatu. The bio-geophysical effects include coastal erosion, increased flooding, loss of coastal lowlands and wetlands and salinization of surface and groundwater. The loss and degradation of coastal wetlands impact on the livelihoods and nutrition of coastal dwellers that depend on the ecosystem services from intact and healthy mangroves, coral reefs and other coastal ecosystems. In addition, the effects of climate change on the socio-economy of the country include the risks to human life and health, loss of property and infrastructure, deterioration of agriculture, tourism, recreation and loss of livelihoods. These vulnerabilities threaten the way of life of coastal communities.

With respect to climate change governance, Vanuatu has responded positively to the climate change challenges and has established a National Advisory Board (NAB) with primary responsibility for coordinating climate change policies, programs and projects. The secretariat of NAB is the newly established PMU (Project Management Unit) based at the Vanuatu Meteorological and Geohazards Department (VMGD). To guide the implementation of effective and efficient adaptation efforts, Vanuatu has endorsed the 2012-2022 National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (NCCAS) and the National Adaption Program for Action (NAPA). These plans provide policy recommendations; sector specific adaptation plans and outlines a systematic, long-term approach for embedding climate change adaptation into core national and sector level activities. Vanuatu has also developed a National Integrated Coastal Management Framework (NICMF) and Implementation Strategy which outlines the institutional arrangements needed for management of coastal ecosystems. These national plans and strategies provide an important framework for the development of the project design.

Vanuatu is highly vulnerable to climate change related risks. The location, geology, and climate put Vanuatu at risk of disaster regardless of climate change. However, given the potential impacts of climate change the existing vulnerabilities will enhanced. These risks are summarized in Annex 1 of the main project document.

The current projections for climate change in Vanuatu in are outlined below. In relation to coastal and marine ecosystems that changes are projected to include:

  • Increase in mean air temperature (0.4-1 degree Celsius by 2030),
  • Increasing temperature of coastal waters with increasing likelihood of the potential for coral bleaching
  • Increasing acidification of the coastal water (due to a decrease in ocean Aragonite saturation from 3.9 to 3.4 to 3.5(Ωar) by 2030)
  • Increase in sea level (5-17cm by 2030),
  • Increase in the intensity of the wet and dry seasons
  • Increase in soil erosion due to changing rainfall events
  • Less frequent, but more intense cyclones (increased wind speed and precipitation)

A ridge-to-Reef concept needs to adopt for the Vanuatu by integrating Coastal Community Climate Change Management Plans and integrated water resources management plan. In particular, the plan will focus on reducing threats to coastal and marine ecosystems, enhancing the resilience of ecosystems, disaster risk, water resources, coral reef, mangroves and seagrass beds and managing pressure on extraction of marine and coastal resources.

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