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Climate risk-informed governance in Fiji: Experiences from Mr. Manasa Ralwa Tagicakibau, former Divisional Commissioner for Western Fiji

NAP-GSP connects with Mr. Manasa Ralwa Tagicakibau, former Divisional Commissioner for Western Fiji, to learn more about building risk-informed governance and integrating climate change into development at national and sub-national levels, to advance climate change adaptation.

Mr. Manasa Ralwa Tagicakibau, former Divisional Commissioner for western Fiji

Adaptation and resilience have historically been the way of life for Fiji. Isolated from the rest of the world and at the mercy of the Pacific Ocean that surrounds the small island state, Fijians must plan and incorporate climate-related hazards into everyday life. Climate change brings additional challenges. Coastal erosion and flooding is forcing entire communities to relocate. Incorporating adaptive practices and actions into all sectors of government is essential for sustainable development, economic growth and protecting livelihoods.

NAP-GSP: What kind of climate risks does climate change pose to the people, economy and security of Fiji?

Mr. Manasa: The Western Division is one of the most vulnerable areas of Fiji, located in the path of cyclones. At the same time, the Western Division is economically vital to Fiji. Sugar production, the tourism sector and the mining industry are concentrated in the west of the country, contributing 70 percent to Fiji’s gross domestic product (GDP). Two major ports of entry into Fiji are located in the Western Division. When a cyclone comes through and devastates those industries, it impacts Fiji as a whole.

We aim to ensure that the Western Division is prepared, resilient and able to bounce back quickly in the aftermath of a severe climatic event. Fiji has a dry season and a cyclone season – which will inevitably bring heavy rains and storms. We have no control over this. The impact of climate change means that we are facing these hazards more frequently and with greater intensity. The most recent example was in 2016, when we were hit by Cyclone Winston – a category 5 cyclone – one of the most devastating cyclones ever to hit our country.

What actions at the national level have been taken to adapt to climate change impacts?

We are working across all sectors of government and engaging with the private sector to build resilience into our infrastructure and support livelihood resilience for the Fijian people. At the national level we are working on specific climate change policies and realigning government structures so they conform to international regulations.

'We engage women, youth, and all sectors of the community, ensuring that challenges and opportunities are considered in our planning and policy making.'

Our Climate Division was previously located in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was a small unit, not considered highly significant. Now we are seeing an increase in the severity and frequency of extreme weather events, so we are looking seriously into climate change adaptation. We have moved the Climate Change Unit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, into the Ministry of Economy. We have also expanded the financing for the Unit. Our Climate Change Director now reports directly to the Minister of Economy. This has helped to prioritise climate change within government. In turn, it has resulted in new climate change policies, such as a Green Growth Framework and a draft National Adaptation Plan. Both of these plans have been incorporated into the 2013 Fiji constitution.

All the climate policies that are being implemented now are also inclusive. We engage women, youth, and all sectors of the community, ensuring that challenges and opportunities are considered in our planning and policy making.

What actions are being taken at the subnational level?

Awareness raising is critical to adaptation and building resilience. We are working to ensure our communities are informed and self-sufficient. I personally convene heads of departments for the Western Division in quarterly meetings. We don’t need to wait for the national level to come down and tell us that we need to adapt. This we know. We also know the actions that need to be taken at the subnational level.

'Awareness raising is critical to adaptation and building resilience. We are working to ensure our communities are informed and self-sufficient.'

Most of the villages in the Western Division have already initiated their own disaster management and adaptation plans. This is particularly crucial for the coastal communities. They are experiencing salt water intrusion which is jeopardising their water resources. Many coastal communities have begun to implement adaptation actions, such as mangrove plantations, to safeguard their livelihoods.

We also conducted vulnerability assessments at subnational level. Through these studies, we have identified vulnerable villages which need to be relocated. We have prioritised the levels of vulnerability and risk, in order to assess whether to move them immediately or whether they can relocate at a later stage. Fiji is looking at relocation as a last option. There are other adaptation methods that can be done to safeguard villages. For example, we are working on ‘building back better’. Since we know that the next cyclone will be bigger and stronger, it’s a wise adaptation measure to build back better to meet enhanced standards, so the community withstands the impacts of the hazards coming through. As people re-build their houses, we support them with the appropriate designs, and work with them to compile better building standards to withstand climate change impacts.

'We are working on ‘building back better’. .. we know that the next cyclone will be bigger and stronger...'

We are building an adaptive mindset in our people. If houses are built to the required standards, there will be less need for people to go to the evacuation centres. We are strengthening the resilience of our people, whilst ensuring that public infrastructure such as schools, health centres and roads, are all built to standards which are sustainable and adaptive.

Fiji experienced severe flooding during Cyclone Winston in 2016 and previously in 2012. Photo credits: UNDP Fiji / AusAid

The joint UNDP-UN Environment National Adaptation Plan Global Support Programme (NAP-GSP), financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has been supporting Pacific Island nations to advance their adaptation planning since 2014. In May 2018, NAP-GSP convened a regional workshop in Fiji for representatives of Pacific Island governments on how to appraise and prioritise climate change adaptation options. Delegates learned more about how to apply technical tools and methods for selecting priority actions to reduce vulnerability. In 2014, NAP-GSP together with the Least Developed Countries Expert Group (LEG) held a Regional Training Workshop on NAPs for Pacific LDCs in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

The government of Fiji has committed to integrating green growth into its development efforts. Green growth is a cornerstone of the new National Development Plan (NDP) for 2015- 2020, which builds on the recent Green Growth Framework.

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