In Vanuatu, directors of government departments in the land-based resource sectors (agriculture, forestry, environment, water resources, meteorology and livestock & quarantine) are busy finalising the country's first National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (NCCAS) with input from stakeholders.Supported by the SPC-GIZ Coping with Climate Change in the Pacific Islands Region programme, the strategy seeks to position Vanuatu to cope with climate change in these sectors.
In the first half of July, this team of experts travelled from Torba Province to Tafea Province visiting provincial governments, communities and the private sector to present and gather feedback on the draft NCCAS. With this final round of consultations completed, the new strategy will be ready in the next few months.
Some impacts of climate change on Vanuatu's economy, health and society are already being felt, particularly in the outer islands, where people are directly and fully dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods.
However, there is reason for hope, as communities, individuals and businesses around the country have begun adapting to these changes.
'We in the Banks Islands are already seeing climate change, but I am trying to find ways around it as I have found that in very dry years if I plants my crops under shade trees they will survive better than if I plant them in the open,' says Charles Ling, a farmer on Mota Lava.
Sea level rise is also already affecting coastlines throughout Vanuatu. What can we do about it? Adapting to sea level rise could take many forms: relocating buildings, roads, houses or villages to higher ground; replanting natural barriers like mangroves, Hibiscus Tiliaceus (burao) and pandanus or even building sea walls etc.
'We have been adapting to climate extremes for hundreds of years in Vanuatu,' says Matu Iesul of Middle Bush, Tanna.
'We have our kastom to deal with weather,' he noted, referring to traditional practices, 'but climate change is making us work harder than ever and change the way we live our lives.'
According to Dr Christopher Bartlett, Technical Advisor with SPC-GIZ project based in Vanuatu, adaptation means understanding what is predicted to change (like the frequency of extreme events, the temperature of the ocean, or the amount of rainfall), and then doing something so that these changes don't bring as much negative impact as they otherwise would.
'For example, if the Meteorology Department predicts that next year will likely be a very dry (El Niño year), farmers can adapt by planting drought tolerant crops in their gardens now (like yams).'
'Farmers may also adapt by avoiding planting crops that will require lots of water next year, or else start thinking about irrigation,' Dr Bartlett said.
He added that the purpose of the new NCCAS is to guide Vanuatu towards these types of activities.
'Under development for the last six months, it has undergone extensive consultation with government, NGOs, communities and industries. It contains the best and most scientifically robust climate change predictions, a review of climate change governance institutions and policies, and, most importantly, detailed recommendations on how the land-based sector can adapt to climate change.'
'These recommendations do not come from developed countries, or even from other countries in the Pacific. Instead, over 600 recommended adaptation measures contained within the new NCCAS come from within Vanuatu, and are validated by experience from kastom living in communities, the advice of innovative local business people, and government expertise,' Bartlett said.
NCCAS takes the vision of existing plans like the National Adaptation Programme of Action and the Disaster National Action Plan, and synthesises them into a more coherent long term strategy for the country.
The new document is due to be endorsed by the Council of Ministers before the end of the year, making it Vanuatu's most significant climate change policy document.