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A country on the move

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defines climate change as

a change in the state of the climate that can be identified by changes in the mean … and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer

Although there are several natural processes that contribute to climate change, including modulations of the solar cycles and volcanic eruptions, increasingly climate change is being attributed to anthropogenic activities which are adding to the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

These increased emissions are leading to global warming, which is causing changes in sea level on a global scale. One of the main reasons for this is that as global temperatures rise, more glaciers and ice sheets in polar regions start to melt, increasing the volume of melt-water run-off into the oceans and causing sea levels to rise. An additional cause is thermal expansion, the process by which as global sea temperature increases, sea water expands slightly, causing eustatic rise.

Sea level rise is not occurring at the same rate globally. Areas of the south-west Pacific are experiencing rapid eustatic rise due to ocean and surface temperatures in the region warming three times faster than the global average. It is expected that sea levels will rise by between 20-60 cm in the Pacific by 2100. The impacts of this include increased erosion, saltwater intrusion and contamination of groundwater stores, coastal flooding, and damage to reef structures and ecosystems. These effects are potentially extremely widespread and severe as communities on the Pacific islands have a high dependency on coastal resources and infrastructure for supporting their livelihoods and generating income. Fiji, which lies in the South Pacific, has more than 300 islands and a population of nearly 1 million people, 65% of whom live within 5 km of the shoreland. By 2050, it is expected that the damage caused to coral reefs in Fiji by rising ocean temperatures will cost up to $14 million a year in lost fisheries and tourism revenue.

The vulnerable communities in these areas must adapt to these climate impacts. In Fiji, a government taskforce has been trying to develop a plan to move the country, relocating communities whose homes will soon be, or are already, underwater. Vunidogoloa, a village of around 140 people on Fiji’s second largest island, Vanua Levu, was the first place to be relocated to a new site. In 2014, the village moved around a mile inland to higher ground. The community had already attempted to adapt to the rising sea levels by building sea walls and moving their homes further inland but had reached a point where adaption became futile. The difficulty of moving communities in Fiji is exacerbated by the fact that much of the land is indigenous owned meaning that it cannot be bought or sold. Instead, the clans involved must reach an agreement that the land may be used for the site of a new village. The absence of a financial contract can make the process complicated, as was shown in 2017 when tensions rose between the members of the newly relocated Tukuraki villagers and members of the clan whose land they now live on. The clan members were angered by the fact that the houses and services built for the new village were better than those they themselves had. This led to an

update being made to the governmental relocation policy that the development of the host community must be considered when a new community is established.

This clearly demonstrates that the process of relocation has not yet been perfected. With a current list of 42 villages in need of relocation, the sense of urgency is evident. However, the biggest barrier that Fiji is facing is a lack of funds for the process, especially following the decline in tourism revenue in recent years as a result of COVID 19. Fiji will require substantial investment from international partners in order to complete its relocation plan, especially as global temperatures and sea levels continue to rise, and even more communities are beginning to be threatened by the impacts of the climate crisis.

By Lydia

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