Climate Action Case Studies

Case Study 1: Climate Change &  Increased Vulnerability of Road Networks

 

Challenge Statement:What technologies, engineering solutions or other innovative approach could enhance road infrastructure resilience to climate change in the Pacific Islands context?  

 

Roads provide crucial access to education and health facilities, supplies and economic opportunities. Due to the geographic location of the majority of the Pacific Islands and low-lying nature of large parts of the road infrastructure, the transport network is exposed to a multitude of natural hazards including flooding, cyclones, landslides and volcanic eruptions. Many of these hazards are exacerbated by climate change effects such as sea level rise, extreme temperature and precipitation.  A review of the existing and future climate for the Pacific Islands identified a number of potential climate-related hazards/stressors to road infrastructure:  

 

  • Increase in both average annual rainfall and the intensity of extreme rainfall event  
  • Changes in Average Recurrence Interval (ARI) for 24hrs rainfall event  
  • Increase in the mean sea level – i.e. Sea Level Rise (SLR)  
  • An increase in the magnitude/or frequency of storm surge events coupled with SLR  
  • Rise in the annual mean and extreme daily-high temperatures   

 

These effects of climate change will result in significant impacts to road networks across the Pacific. A number of these are summarised below:  

 

Temperature 

 

Heat extremes will place additional stress on road networks resulting in accelerated deterioration through the softening of asphalt as well as thermal expansion and movement of bridge joints and paved surfaces (Meyer, et al., 2014).   

 

Increased Rainfall 

 

Increased rainfall is going to result in increased short- and long-term flooding as well as increased risk of landslides and slope failures washing out roads (Meyer, et al., 2014).  Flooding can wash out road infrastructure causing significant damage. Failure of bridge and culvert embankments may impede vehicle access. Greater loads of flood debris will lead to greater house damage and human loss.  

 

Sea-level Rise 

 

Sea-level rise will result in temporary and permanent flooding of roads and tunnels, rising sea levels and storm surges as well as erosion of coastal road bases and bridge supports (Meyer, et al., 2014). Encroachment of saltwater due to sea-level rise leads to accelerated degradation of infrastructure. This can reduce the structure’s life expectancy, increase maintenance costs as well as the potential for structural failure during extreme events. The loss of coastal wetlands and barrier islands will lead to further coastal erosion due to the loss of natural protection from wave action (Meyer, et al., 2014).   

 

Increased Intensity of Tropical Cyclones 

 

Roads are likely to face increased flooding in the aftermath of strong storms with prolonged inundation leading to long-term weakening and damage to roads (Meyer, et al., 2014). Roads and bridges can be damaged during Tropical Cyclones from storm surge and significant wave action as well as high winds. Concrete bridge decks weighing many tons have, for example, in the past been blown or floated off their supports during significant storm events (Meyer, et al., 2014).  

 

What technologies, engineering solutions or other innovative approach could enhance road infrastructure resilience to climate change in the Pacific Islands context?  

 

 

References 

 

BoM and CSIRO, 2014.  

The Pacific-Australia Climate Change Science and Adaptation Planning (PACCSAP). 

 

https://www.pacificclimatechangescience.org/ 

World Bank article on Enhancing Road Resilience in Pacific Island Countries​  

Introduction to key issue parameters and considerations to note in addressing the issue through lessons learnt from World Bank projects in this area. 

https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/transport/brief/connections-note-29​  

World Bank-GFDRR, 2018  

Supporting road network vulnerability assessments in Pacific island countries. 

https://www.preventionweb.net/publications/view/57928 

 

Case Study 2:  Disappearing Islands – Sea Level Rise and Threatened Communities

 

Challenge Statement: What approach, or combination of approaches could be taken to minimise impacts and harms for communities in the Pacific that will lose useable land as a result of climate change and sea level rise? Are there technologies, engineering solutions, social policies or other initiatives that could empower future potential climate change refugees?  

 

A number of countries are being affected in significant ways by climate change and sea level rise, and modelling suggests that communities across the world, from the Mekong Delta to sub Saharan Africa, will be required to resettle in the medium to long term due to these impacts. Nowhere is this more immediately apparent than in the Pacific. Countries including Tuvalu and Kiribati are largely low-lying atolls with little if any land higher than five metres above sea level. While complete inundation will take significant time, many of the low-lying islands will be rendered uninhabitable well before this happens due to sea level rise and storm surge impacts to limited arable land, soil salinity, and contamination of groundwater (fresh water) supplies.  

 

Countries such as the Marshall Islands have special arrangements with the US, while Kiribati and Tuvalu have to date had to rely on limited and capped bilateral arrangements and immigration to Australia and New Zealand, despite the ad hoc manner in which this occurs. Fiji has recently offered resettlement to both Tuvalu and Kiribati, but at this stage the offer has been refused. At the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum, the Tuvalu Prime Minister expressed a desire to focus on reclamation as a solution. In contrast, Kiribati’s recent Prime Minister expressed a desire for the country to prepare for “dignified migration” by 2021.  

 

Despite high levels of young qualified residents relocating to neighbouring countries for education, training, and professional opportunities, generally people from these islands express resistance to leaving the islands permanently through a resettlement program. There are significant differences between regions in the Pacific, with additional variation between nations, islands, and even communities depending on their histories, interactions with settlers, colonialism, traders, and/or missionaries. What is consistent is the connection to the land, sites, and stories that link Islanders to their ancestors and histories, which give a strong sense of identity. While often contested, fragmented, and difficult to detangle from cultural imports such as Christianity, culture is difficult to maintain without links to land.   

 

To settle in another country means ceding sovereignty, land rights, and losing the right to self-determination as a group united by a common language and/or common land/s.    

 

This has been starkly illustrated in Australian history, with colonial practices upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, comprising (but not limited to) displacement, missioning, resettlement, and forced adoption. This was particularly traumatic for the many varied and different communities (‘nations’) for which the concept of country was and is so fundamentally tied to understandings of the world (ontologies). Modern multicultural migration policies also often demand some level of assimilation with the host community, and transitioning from island-based communities to host communities with different values, systems of production, food, and technology can affect various family members in significantly different ways including economically, socially, emotionally, and physically.   

 

What approach, or combination of approaches could be taken to minimise impacts and harms for communities in the Pacific that will lose useable land as a result of climate change and sea level rise? Are there technologies, engineering solutions, social policies or other initiatives that could empower future potential climate change refugees?  

 

 

References 

DevPolicy Blog  

 

Kiribati’s land purchase in Fiji: does it make sense?  

 

https://devpolicy.org/kitibatis-land-purchase-in-fiji-does-it-make-sense-20160111/   

 

 

 

ReliefWeb 

 

Demonstration of differences in policy on relocation, particularly between Tuvalu and Kiribati. 

 

https://reliefweb.int/report/tuvalu/tuvalu-and-kiribati-have-different-policies-relocation 

 

The Conversation  

 

How the entire nation of Nauru almost moved to Queensland. 

 

https://theconversation.com/how-the-entire-nation-of-nauru-almost-moved-to-queensland-63833 

 

Cultural Landscapes of the Pacific Islands: ICOMOS Thematic Study  

by Anita Smith and Kevin L. Jones  

 

This is the first regional thematic study on Cultural Landscapes in the Pacific region. Published by ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites), it is an overview of cultural landscapes in the Pacific Islands and the defining characteristics that account for their commonalities as well as their diversity. It also illustrates examples of various types of cultural landscapes found across the region and the geo-cultural characteristics of the Pacific Islands, which make this category of cultural heritage significant to the region.  

 

https://whc.unesco.org/document/10060 

 

Will Pacific Island Nations Disappear as Seas Rise? Maybe Not 

Kennedy Warne, National Geographic 

A useful discussion on the contested concept of “sinking islands”. Natural forces reshape coral atolls continually, however modern, permanent buildings and other infrastructure on which people rely make these natural processes more difficult to contend with these days.   

The fact that land size may be shifting or increasing does not nullify the fact that sea level rise is having unprecedented impacts on communities.  

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150213-tuvalu-sopoaga-kench-kiribati-maldives-cyclone-marshall-islands/ 

Case study 3: Groundwater in Remote Atoll Communities – Dealing with Declining Quantity, Salinity and Rising Levels

 

Challenge Statement:What locally appropriate technologies, engineering solutions or other innovative approach could be used to address issues with groundwater in these remote communities, to develop a sustainable way forward? 

Coral atolls, such as those of Kiribati, rely heavily on captured rainfall (e.g. rainwater tanks) and available groundwater resources for their water supply. Sea level rise and changes to rainfall patterns however will potentially reduce the availability and reliability of these resources.  

 

Groundwater on a coral atoll generally has a freshwater lens, that “floats” on the surrounding saline groundwater (see Figure 1). The depth and amount of freshwater is dependent on the land area and the amount of rainfall, noting that rain falling on the land area “recharges” the groundwater aquifer (see references).  

Figure 1. Typical Coral Atoll Groundwater (GA, 2014) 

 

Groundwater and rainwater capture through rainwater tanks tend to be the primary water source for communities on coral atolls.  On some islands, such as Tarawa in Kiribati, groundwater is be the key water supply, while on other islands (such as some of the Tuvalu islands), groundwater is predominantly used as an emergency supply in periods of low rainfall.    

 

Climate change can impact on groundwater resources in several key ways:  

 

  • The amount of freshwater available can reduce. This can be through reductions in rainfall (which lead to less “topping up” of the groundwater) or where the land area reduces as a result of sea level rise (less land area then leads to less topping up through rainfall collection).    
  • A further challenge with reductions in rainfall is the impact on alternative water supplies, such as rainwater tanks.  When these become less reliable, the community will pump more from their groundwater supplies, leading to further reductions in freshwater available.  
  • The water table can increase due to sea level rise. This can be the freshwater component, that then inundates new areas. It can also be the saline or brackish groundwater, that can start to affect low lying areas.   

 

The key impacts to communities through these changes include:  

 

  • Reduction in availability of the groundwater resource, and increase in salinity of the groundwater supply, reducing the reliability of this resource.  In conjunction with reduced rainfall, both sources of water are then placed under greater pressure.  
  • Increases in groundwater salinity can also affect its non-potable uses (for example, for agriculture or industries such as concrete production).  
  • Changes in soil saturation and salinity may affect agricultural areas.  
  • Rising groundwater levels also increase the risk of human waste contamination (e.g. through septic tanks), and therefore further reduce reliability of groundwater.  
  • Increases in groundwater salinity can affect building foundations, where these become exposed to harsh conditions exceeding their design capacity.  

 

The Pacific Islands in general, and coral atolls in particular, are characterised by remote, often relatively small, communities. The ability to import, and maintain, high tech solutions or specialised equipment that might otherwise be suitable in a developed world context is particularly difficult.   

 

What locally appropriate technologies, engineering solutions or other innovative approach could be used to address issues with groundwater in these remote communities, to develop a sustainable way forward? 

References

Pacific Island Developing Country Water Resources and Climate Change​  

This chapter from the Pacific Institute’s third volume in The World’s Water series, provides an overview of water resources in Pacific Islands, the science behind how these water resources form and how they are threatened, particularly as a result of climate change, and provides some initial recommendations for consideration to address this issue. ​  

https://pacinst.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/worlds_water_2002_chapter53.pdf 

 

See also Pacific Institute website:  

https://pacinst.org/ 

Pacific Island Groundwater and Future Climates: First-Pass Regional Vulnerability Assessment (Australian Government, Geoscience) 

Overview and link to final report and data issued by Geoscience Australia, developing approach for vulnerability assessment of groundwater to low rainfall periods and sea-level rise, hydrogeologically-based typologies, and baseline data set for the region. ​  

https://www.ga.gov.au/about/projects/water/pacific-island-groundwater-and-future-climates-first-pass-regional-vulnerability-assessment​  

Case study 3: Disaster-Resilient Communications Networks to Facilitate Effective Response to Increased Intensity Cyclone Events in Vanuatu 

 

Challenge Statement:

 

Problems to be addressed in this area exist at two levels;  

 

(1) How can we improve resilience of communications networks infrastructure in consideration of not just its components, but dependency on power, maintenance in context of local capacity, and ability to cope under increased post-disaster demand, while reliably reaching remote islands?  

 

(2) How can we improve communications sharing systems between each of the key stakeholder groups to enable better communication of local needs and coordination of response to meet these?  

 

Vanuatu is listed by the UN University World Risk Index as the country most at risk of being struck by natural disasters. One of the most frequent and costly of these disasters is the occurrence of tropical cyclones, with the country having faced 16 cyclone events to the estimated cost of 79 lives and USD 205 million between 1980 and 2014. More recently, Vanuatu has been struck by further significant cyclones such as TC Pam (2015) and TC Harold (2020).   

 

Climate change predictions indicate that the intensity of future cyclones in the Pacific Islands region is likely to increase. As well as preparedness and prevention, disaster response and recovery will therefore be an ongoing and significant activity, while continuing to face common disaster management challenges in the form of: 

 

  • Lack of communication between different actors and levels;  
  • Lack of information regarding information that is shared or available;  
  • Lack of data standardization;  
  • Lack of up-to-date information regarding development and unfolding of disaster situation.  

 

This is compounded by telecommunications breakdown where components of infrastructure may have been damaged by high winds and/or flooding, supporting infrastructure such as power supply being itself damaged and unavailable, and remaining or re-established networks being overwhelmed by demand. Critical information flow, such as communication of post-disaster needs, to enable coordination between communities, government agencies, local and international response organizations already challenged by the above then becomes blocked.  

 

With 250 km/hr winds and gusts peaking at 320 km/hr, TC Pam left only one cellular tower operational, causing a communications blackout of all radio, television, internet and phone services. Even four days after the storm, nearly 60 of Vanuatu’s 65 inhabited islands remained entirely cut-off. Satellite phones were available to some expatriates and donor organizations, but experienced signal issues on the more remote islands.   

 

The Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) mobilized and provided internet connectivity through BGAN, ISP, WIDER and VSAT equipment at 10 different locations, on 6 islands, overcoming challenges with the lack of grid power and high logistical costs and delay for shipped equipment to arrive. Ineffective communication between local needs and conditions, and international actors also resulted in major issues and wasted effort, such as an overwhelming build-up of unsolicited bilateral donations of unwanted or inappropriate relief items causing major customs processing delays on all incoming goods.  

 

Problems to be addressed in this area exist at two levels;  

 

(1) How can we improve resilience of communications networks infrastructure in consideration of not just its components, but dependency on power, maintenance in context of local capacity, and ability to cope under increased post-disaster demand, while reliably reaching remote islands?  

 

(2) How can we improve communications sharing systems between each of the key stakeholder groups to enable better communication of local needs and coordination of response to meet these?  

 

 

 References 

 

Lowy Institute: ‘Winds of Change: Rethinking Disaster Relief after Cyclone Harold’ 

Article introducing importance of communication and involvement with local people to drive solutions key to improving resilience in face of Climate Change in the Pacific. 

https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/winds-change-rethinking-disaster-relief-after-cyclone-harold 

ITU Focus Group on Disaster Relief Systems, Network Resilience and Recovery​  

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is a UN specialised agency in the field of telecommunications, information and communication technologies. This Focus Group has produced a number of technical reports, completing overviews on the role of telecommunications in disaster mitigation, resilience and recovery, gap analysis, requirements for relief systems and network resilience and recovery, as well as improvements needed with movable and deployable ICT resource units. 

https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/focusgroups/drnrr/Pages/default.aspx​  

 

See also presentation reflecting on Cyclone Pam Disaster Recovery in Vanuatu: 

https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Regional-Presence/AsiaPacific/Documents/Events/2015/August-PMPC2015/PMPC_Korol_Hawkins.pdf 

 

 

Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC)​  

ETC is a global network of organizations that work together to provide shared communications services in humanitarian emergencies, within 48 hours of an incident occurring. One of their current activations includes preparedness work in the Pacific Islands, which includes development of manuals, situational reports, factsheets, checklists, etc. There are also documents and relevant links available from previous activations in response to e.g. Cyclone Winston in Fiji and Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, that demonstrate the coordination and requirements arising during disaster response. 

https://www.etcluster.org/​  

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