Pacific islands governments plan for climate changes

The Pacific islands, island governments are using science to plan for climate extremes and eventually prepare for long-term climate change, according to Eileen Shea, chief of the Climate Services Division of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

Eileen Shea: Many jurisdictions in the Pacific islands are already using climate information, information about year-to-year variability in rainfall associated with El Nino to plan for water resource management. Or to think about agriculture and livestock issues.

There are tens of thousands of islands in the Pacific Ocean. Shea said that because these low-lying places are particularly vulnerable to hurricanes and sea level rise, they’ve begun to make decisions based on climate science. She gave the example of improving a road in the Federated States of Micronesia, an island nation made up of over 600 islands.

Eileen Shea: They began to think about what they should do to plan for sea level rise. Can we raise the height of the road? And can we set up the shoulders in such a way that it’s easier for water to run off, so the road won’t flood as often as it might in an era of sea level rise, with storm surge on top of it?

Shea said many island governments have set up partnerships with scientists, to help them make decisions about how to strengthen and build infrastructure, or even what crops to plant. She added that NOAA is working to make the climate information that scientists use understandable and easily accessible, on the Internet.

Eileen Shea: We are seeing the vulnerability of Pacific Island communities, and in fact communities all over the world, to changes in climate on all time scales.

Shea said that in the late 1990’s, island communities began to use forecasts of El Nino/Southern Oscillation, a climate event based in the Pacific Ocean, to educate the public about preparing for climate-related events. She said that something as simple as checking and repairing leaks in a water distribution system is a form of climate adaptation. She talked about some of the infrastructure decisions that would be affected by climate.

Eileen Shea: Building an airport, repairing roads, repairing and replacing water distribution systems, water storage systems, infrastructure related to moving energy around, so water and electric utilities will be interested in making these kinds of decisions. Telecommunications is also part of the infrastructure, and in that case you would be looking at risks from changing patterns of hurricanes.

But she added that planning for long-term climate change will require community-wide introspection.

Eileen Shea: It all begins with two questions: What do you value about where you live, and how do changes in climate threaten that? Once you know that, the other factor is, how risk averse are you?

She suggested that individuals, families, communities, and governments have an open dialogue about how they want to protect the things they value about their island. Shea said that dialogue can transfer to scientists who can help the island come up with options for climate protection.

Our thanks today to NOAA Pacific Services Center – linking culture, science, and people to build resilient Pacific Island communities.

September 6, 2010

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