Stay Informed

Your go-to source for the latest trends impacting gender justice and women’s rights around the world

Changes afoot to ensure gender aware climate change policies in the Pacific Island countries and territories

FRIDAY FILE - The Pacific region is one of the most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, with effects already being felt in sectors such as agriculture, water resources, forestry and tourism. But what mechanisms are in place to ensure women’s involvement in climate change processes?

By Rochelle Jones

AWID interviewed Dr. Netatua Pelesikoti and Peniamina Leavai* from the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) about new moves towards gender mainstreaming climate change initiatives.

Impacts of Climate Change in Pacific Island Countries and Territories

According to the Pacific Islands Framework for Action on Climate Change 2006 – 2015, the “effects of climate change present significant risks to the sustainable development of Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) and the long-term effects… may threaten the very existence of some of them…The vulnerability of PICTs is primarily influenced by the high sensitivity of the Pacific’s natural, economic and social systems to the anticipated impacts of climate change, and the generally low capacity of all these systems to adapt.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is “the leading international body for the assessment of climate change” established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988. It provides a scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts through reviews and assessments of the most recent information produced worldwide. Their last report – the IPCC 4th Assessment Report, as summarized by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), reveals some of the following projected impacts on PICTs:

Agriculture: Ocean warming, frequent tropical cyclones, flash floods and droughts are likely to have dramatic impact on food production systems in Pacific Islands, which is vital because the majority of rural people still live and depend on subsistence agriculture and cash crops. Scientific studies state that in the absence of adaptation, a high island such as Fiji, could experience damage of between USD 23 million and 52 million per year by 2050.

Coastal systems: Higher rates of erosion and coastal land loss are expected as a consequence of the projected increase in sea level. For example, in the case of Majuro Atoll, it is estimated that for a 1m rise in sea level, as much as 80% and 12.5% of total land in the Marshall Islands and Kiribati respectively, would be vulnerable. Low-lying island states and atolls are likely to experience increased sea flooding, inundation and salinization as a direct consequence of sea level rise. Estimated impacts of sea-level rise on Pacific Islands’ coastal communities are quantified in 77,018 km of shoreline affected.

Water: Water resources are extremely vulnerable to changes and variations in climate because of their limited size, availability and geology and topography, especially in rainfall. Faced with a 2-4 C° temperature increase, projected economic losses amount to 1 billion USD in damages to water resources. Water stresses caused by climate change will have terrific impacts on poor rural people reliant on water resources for their livelihoods.

Adaptation strategies and the role of women

AWID asked Dr. Netatua Pelesikoti and Peniamina Leavai* from the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) about Pacific Climate Change (CC) adaptation processes and how women fit in to these processes. Dr. Pelesikoti is a lead contributor to Chapter 29 on Small Islands in the IPCC 5th Assessment Report that is due to be released in 2014. Guided by its strategic plan, which was developed in consultation with PICTs members and partners such as the UNDP and AusAID, Pelesikoti says that at SPREP “there are two levels to consider - regional and national… Strategies range from development of CC policies or integrated policies for CC and disaster risk management, including action plans with identified priorities, capacity building on mainstreaming CC into development planning and budgetary processes, and, on the ground, implementation such as integrated coastal programmes, water management programmes, food security programmes etc. Strategies and actions are based on national priorities.” When asked if women are involved in decision-making and whether women's voices are being heard in these processes, Pelesikoti stresses that “it is different in each [of the] PICTs - from my experience, yes, women are involved and in some cases women from government level to community levels make the decisions.”

Some of these strategies are grouped under the Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change (PACC) project within SPREP that covers 14 participating countries and helps build resilience to CC in Pacific communities. Peniamina Leavai, the Gender Officer for PACC says: “In general, women are represented at different levels. These groups [have] existed for years traditionally, and are used as gender entry points for [consultations] in the Pacific. There are women's committees at the grassroots levels in each village. They mobilize themselves in attending public consultations, whatever the issue may be -government, NGOs, CSO introduced issues- women at the village level ensure they are represented [and] their views are made known. Views of women have been heard in consultations for projects like the CBDAMPIC Project in Samoa, Cook Islands, and Vanuatu (2002-2005), the NAPA Samoa consultations 2003-2006, NCCP development in Fiji (2012), and The Joint National Action Plans in Tonga(2009), Marshall Islands (2012-2013), Niue(2012-2103) and Tuvalu(2011-2012). [Others include] socio-economic assessment consultations in Samoa, Tuvalu, Nauru, Niue, all under the PACC project. Again, traditional village settings are used, where traditional women's group are utilized.”

While it is clear that women are active and present in CC consultations, Leavai says their participation and contributions are generally not documented and as a result sex-disaggregated data is not yet available. He asserts that because of this “it is difficult to discern and draw any conclusions on how women are impacted by climate change in the Pacific. Research has only just begun and the collection of sex-disaggregated data is the work that needs to be done first. The anecdotal information we have is not enough to ascertain how women are impacted by climate change”. The PACC hopes to reverse this trend. With assistance from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), Leavai says the PACC project, half way through its implementation, has “made one of its outcomes to include gender mainstreaming into the design of the project. As such, the PACC project is just now reviewing its activities to include capturing of this information, [and] identifying baselines in its assessments and consultations, to see if it can draw out any data to analyse. PACC project will therefore only start to bring information on gender and climate change to light and perhaps lead the initiative in ensuring gender is well sensitized and mainstreamed into current and future climate change projects.”

Research on gender, climate change and its risks in the Pacific region is not new, and has been conducted by the UNDP and AusAID, such as UNDP’s recent report ‘Integrating Gender in Disaster Management in Small Island Developing States: A Guide’. Written as a response to needs identified in training workshops held in the Pacific and the Caribbean, the guide is aimed at disaster risk practitioners, introducing gender concepts and explaining how gender roles and responsibilities result in differential exposure to disasters. This is relevant to climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies given the high level of vulnerability of PICTs to climate-related disasters. AusAID and UNDP’s 2008 report ‘The gendered dimensions of disaster risk management and adaptation to climate change - Stories from the Pacific’ is also an extremely useful document outlining gender roles in the Pacific, entry-points for gender integration, and methods in conducting gendered risk assessments.

The PACC’s work on capturing sex-disaggregated data in their consultations and then integrating this into CC strategies is a step forward to ensuring women’s unique experiences in each of the PICTs do not go unnoticed. It may also contribute to having Pacific women’s voices recorded in the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report, which is the leading climate change reference report by the international community and used in UN climate negotiations, such as those associated with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). UN Women is also in the process of recruiting a Programme Specialist on Gender, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction based at the UN Women Pacific Multi-Country Office in Suva, Fiji. The incumbent “is expected to engage proactively with local and regional women leaders and UN Entities to ensure gender issues are addressed on efforts related to climate change and disaster risk reduction in the Asia Pacific region.”

*Dr Netatua Pelesikoti from Tonga is the Director of the Climate Change division at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

Peniamina Leavai is the SPREP Gender Officer for the Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change (PACC) Project.