Australia doesn’t ‘get’ the environmental challenges faced by Pacific Islanders



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Environmental threats in the Pacific Islands can be cultural as well as physical.
Christopher Johnson/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Steven Cork, Australian National University and Kate Auty, University of Melbourne

What actions are required to implement nature-based solutions to Oceania’s most pressing sustainability challenges? That’s the question addressed by the recently released Brisbane Declaration on ecosystem services and sustainability in Oceania.

Compiled following a forum earlier this year in Brisbane, featuring researchers, politicians and community leaders, the declaration suggests that Australia can help Pacific Island communities in a much wider range of ways than simply responding to disasters such as tropical cyclones.

Many of the insights offered at the forum were shocking, especially for Australians. Over the past few years, many articles, including several on The Conversation, have highlighted the losses of beaches, villages and whole islands in the region, including in the Solomons, Catarets, Takuu Atoll and Torres Strait, as sea level has risen. But the forum in Brisbane highlighted how little many Australians understand about the implications of these events.

Over the past decade, Australia has experienced a range of extreme weather events, including Tropical Cyclone Debbie, which hit Queensland in the very week that the forum was in progress. People who have been directly affected by these events can understand the deep emotional trauma that accompanies damage to life and property.

At the forum, people from several Pacific nations spoke personally about how the tragedy of sea-level rise is impacting life, culture and nature for Pacific Islanders.

One story, which has become the focus of the play Mama’s Bones, told of the deep emotional suffering that results when islanders are forced to move from the land that holds their ancestors’ remains.

The forum also featured a screening of the film There Once Was an Island, which documents people living on the remote Takuu Atoll as they attempt to deal with the impact of rising seas on their 600-strong island community. Released in 2011, it shows how Pacific Islanders are already struggling with the pressure to relocate, the perils of moving to new homes far away, and the potentially painful fragmentation of families and community that will result.

There Once Was an Island.

Their culture is demonstrably under threat, yet many of the people featured in the film said they receive little government or international help in facing these upheavals. Australia’s foreign aid budgets have since shrunk even further.

As Stella Miria-Robinson, representing the Pacific Islands Council of Queensland, reminded participants at the forum, the losses faced by Pacific Islanders are at least partly due to the emissions-intensive lifestyles enjoyed by people in developed countries.

Australia’s role

What can Australians do to help? Obviously, encouraging informed debate about aid and immigration policies is an important first step. As public policy researchers Susan Nicholls and Leanne Glenny have noted,
in relation to the 2003 Canberra bushfires, Australians understand so-called “hard hat” responses to crises (such as fixing the electricity, phones, water, roads and other infrastructure) much better than “soft hat” responses such as supporting the psychological recovery of those affected.

Similarly, participants in the Brisbane forum noted that Australian aid to Pacific nations is typically tied to hard-hat advice from consultants based in Australia. This means that soft-hat issues – like providing islanders with education and culturally appropriate psychological services – are under-supported.

The Brisbane Declaration calls on governments, aid agencies, academics and international development organisations to do better. Among a series of recommendations aimed at preserving Pacific Island communities and ecosystems, it calls for the agencies to “actively incorporate indigenous and local knowledge” in their plans.

At the heart of the recommendations is the need to establish mechanisms for ongoing conversations among Oceanic nations, to improve not only understanding of each others’ cultures but of people’s relationships with the environment. Key to these conversations is the development of a common language about the social and cultural, as well as economic, meaning of the natural environment to people, and the building of capacity among all nations to engage in productive dialogue (that is, both speaking and listening).

This capacity involves not only training in relevant skills, but also establishing relevant networks, collecting and sharing appropriate information, and acknowledging the importance of indigenous and local knowledge.

Apart from the recognition that Australians have some way to go to put themselves in the shoes of our Pacific neighbours, it is very clear that these neighbours, through the challenges they have already faced, have many valuable insights that can help Australia develop policies, governance arrangements and management approaches in our quest to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.


The ConversationThis article was co-written by Simone Maynard, Forum Coordinator and Ecosystem Services Thematic Group Lead, IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management.

Steven Cork, Adjunct Associate Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Kate Auty, Vice Chancellor’s Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Pristine paradise to rubbish dump: the same Pacific island, 23 years apart



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The same beach on Henderson Island, in 1992 and 2015.

Jennifer Lavers, University of Tasmania and Alexander Bond, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

A few weeks ago, the world woke to the story of Henderson Island, the “South Pacific island of rubbish”. Our research revealed it as a place littered with plastic garbage, washed there by ocean currents.

This was a story we had been waiting to tell for more than a year, keeping our discoveries under wraps while we worked our way through mountains of data and photographs.

Our May 2017 video story detailing the rubbish on Henderson Island.

Everyone wanted to know how the plastic got there, and fortunately that is a question that our understanding of ocean currents can help us answer. But the question we couldn’t answer was: when did it all start to go so wrong?

This is the million-dollar question for so many wild species and spaces – all too often we only notice a problem once it’s too big to deny, or perhaps even solve. So when did Henderson’s sad story start? The answer is: surprisingly recently.

An eloquent photo

During our research we had reached out to those who had previously worked on Henderson Island or in nearby areas, to gain a better understanding of what forces contributed to the enormous piles of rubbish that have floated to Henderson’s sandy beaches.

Then, after our research was published and the world was busy reading about 37 million plastic items washed up on a remote south Pacific island, we received an email from Professor Marshall Weisler from the University of Queensland, who had seen the news and got in touch.

In 1992, he had done archaeological surveys on Henderson Island. The photos he shared from that expedition provided a rare glimpse into the beginning of this chapter of Henderson Island’s story, before it became known as “garbage island”.

Henderson Island in happier times.
Marshall Weisler, Author provided
The same stretch of beach in 2015.
Jennifer Lavers, Author provided

There are only 23 years between these two photos, and the transformation is terrifying – from pristine South Pacific gem to the final resting place for enormous quantities of the world’s waste.

Remember, this is not waste that was dumped directly by human hands. It was washed here on ocean currents, meaning that this is not just about one beach – it shows how much the pollution problem has grown in the entire ocean system in little more than two decades.

To us, Henderson Island was a brutal wake-up call, and there are undoubtedly other garbage islands out there, inundated and overwhelmed by the waste generated in the name of progress. Although the amount of trash on Henderson is staggering – an average of 3,570 new pieces arrive each day on one beach alone – it represents a minute fraction of the rubbish produced around the globe.

Cleanup confounded

In the wake of the story, the other big question we received (and one we should have seen coming) was: can I help you clean up Henderson Island? The answer is no, for a very long list of reasons – some obvious, some not.

To quote a brilliant colleague, what matters is this: if all we ever do is clean up, that is all we will ever do. With thousands of new plastic items washing up on Henderson Island every day, the answer is clear.

The solution doesn’t require travel to a remote island, only the courage to look within. We need to change our behaviour, to turn off the tap and stem the tide of trash in the ocean. Our oceans, our islands, and our planet demand, and deserve it.

However difficult those changes may be, what choice do we have?

Prevention, not cure

While grappling with the scale of the plastics issue can at times be overwhelming, there are simple things you can do to make a difference. The solutions aren’t always perfect, but each success will keep you, your family, and your community motivated to reduce plastic use.

First, ask yourself this: when did it become acceptable for something created from non-renewable petrochemicals, extracted from the depths of the Earth and shipped around the globe, to be referred to as “single use” or “disposable”? Your relationship with plastic begins with the language you use.

But don’t stop there: here are a couple of facts illustrating how you can challenge yourself and make a difference.

Challenge: switch to bamboo toothbrushes, which cost just a few dollars each and are available from a range of online retailers or wholefood shops.

Challenge: switch to products that use crushed apricot kernels, coconut shell, coffee grounds, or sea salts as natural exfoliants.

The ConversationThese are only small changes, and you can undoubtedly think of many more. But we need to start turning the tide if we are to stop more pristine places being deluged with our garbage.

Jennifer Lavers, Research Scientist, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania and Alexander Bond, Senior Conservation Scientist, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Pacific islands are not passive victims of climate change, but will need help


Jeremy Kohlitz, University of Technology Sydney and Pierre Mukheibir, University of Technology Sydney

As Prime Minister Tony Abbott attends the Pacific Island Forum summit today, attention has again turned to how the low-lying islands will deal with global warming. Pacific leaders have been highly critical of Australia’s post-2020 climate target.

A report released for the forum has argued that Australia’s approach threatens “the very survival of some Pacific nations” and is incompatible with limiting warming to 2C. Pacific leaders are calling for a more ambitious global limit of 1.5C above pre-industrial average temperatures.

Half a degree may not seem like much, but the latest scientific assessments indicate that evidence supporting the initial limit of 2C has weakened over the past decade. A goal of 1.5C may avoid some very high risks for small islands associated with 2C warming.

Failing to keep global warming to below a 1.5C increase is likely to put undue pressure on the Pacific island countries through more frequent climate- and weather-induced disasters, as well as speeding up inundation from sea-level rise.

Altered climate and weather patterns are already being observed in the Pacific region. These are expected to continue in the coming years, potentially changing the nature and frequency of disasters and their associated emergencies.

Cyclone Pam’s devastation of Vanuatu, catastrophic flooding in Kiribati and Tuvalu six months ago, and ongoing drought in Papua New Guinea serve as stark illustrations of what life in the Pacific islands may become amid future human-induced climate change.

Resilience in the Pacific

Such images have often led to Pacific islands being characterised as passive and helpless victims of climate change with no other choice but to flee from rising sea levels.

This rhetoric builds on colonial perceptions of Pacific islands suffering from geographic “smallness”, isolation and being resource-poor; notions that Pacific scholars consider belittling. There is, in fact, good reason to believe that Pacific islands and their inhabitants are not inherently vulnerable.

And while sea-level rise is perhaps the most critical driver of environmental change in the Pacific, the rate of change will still mean that in all likelihood people will still be living on low-lying atolls for at least the next 30-50 years.

The use of indigenous knowledge has allowed Pacific islanders to monitor and plan for basic needs – such as food, water, energy and shelter – and manage their livelihoods under varying climatic and weather conditions in the past.

Many people, such as the i-Kiribati, have continuously been adapting to gradually changing conditions to this day. There is no reason to suggest that they cannot continue to adapt in the future.

Incorporating both scientific and indigenous indicators or thresholds to provide some early warning of significant change will allow for timely responses to changes in resource availability or severe weather events. At a community level, this means understanding and supporting local decision-making, self-reliance and participatory processes.

The threat of more frequent disasters

However, with more frequent disasters, the social capital and resilience to withstand and overcome repeated disaster impacts is likely to be reduced, making it harder for Pacific islands to recover, in turn making them more vulnerable.

Under this scenario, indigenous knowledge and local agency will not be enough to cope with frequent impacts. Pacific islands in general have limited human resources for health and disaster response, and a lack of clear policies for requesting overseas assistance, from Australia for example, has constrained their capacity for timely responses to disasters.

External assistance for Pacific islands to cope with more frequent disasters is no doubt needed, but for the best outcomes it must complement and build on the existing capacity and norms of Pacific institutions and communities.

For example, increased incidences of future climate-induced disasters are expected to have significant implications for disaster and emergency preparedness for Pacific islands.

Research by Anna Gero and colleagues at the Institute for Sustainable Futures found that disaster-response systems in Pacific islands have in the past been enhanced by strong informal communication such as including the participation of traditional leaders and churches.

Failing to keep global warming to below a 1.5C increase will see the incidence of disasters increasing. Such a scenario will be too severe for community structures to repeatedly cope with.

As a disaster support agent in the Pacific, Australia will therefore have further demands placed on its disaster response capabilities. In addition to technical and medical support, post-disaster psychosocial support to rebuild social capital and resilience, which has in the past been neglected, will become an ever-increasing need.

Is the solution for the Pacific islands migration or resettlement? Not yet.

This drastic option can be delayed and even avoided by slowing global warming through aggressive emissions reductions. Aggressive mitigation at an international level must be part of a climate risk-reduction strategy. But Pacific islands will also need culturally appropriate adaptation support from Australia and other states that builds on the existing capacity of the islands.

The Conversation

Jeremy Kohlitz, PhD candidate, University of Technology Sydney and Pierre Mukheibir, Associate Professor, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Pacific Ocean: Climate Change and the Pacific Islands


The link below is to an article that reports on climate change and its impact on islands in the Pacific Ocean.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/may/07/pacific-islands-global-warming-climate

Article: The North Pacific Gyre


The following link is to an article reporting on the North Pacific Gyre, the so-called Pacific garbage patch. It’s an interesting read and may clear up some misconceptions on the region.

For more visit:
http://io9.com/5911969/lies-youve-been-told-about-the-pacific-garbage-patch