Sunday, 22 May 2011

Pacific Climate Change Science Programme explains role

07 April 2011 – PACNEWS

The Pacific Islands are among those nations most vulnerable to the devastating effects of climate change. This week meteorological officials from 14 Pacific countries and East Timor are among the 400 plus delegates attending the Science of Climate Change Greenhouse 2011 conference in Cairns.
PACNEWS Journalist Pita Ligaiula who is covering the meeting speaks to Dr Gillian Cambers, Program Manager for the Pacific Climate Change Science Programme about its role.

CAMBERS: The Pacific Climate change Science Programme is a three year initiative that’s been funded by AUSAID and managed by Department of Climate Change and Efficiency here in Australia. The goal is to work with 14 Pacific Island Countries and East Timor to basically understand how climate has changed in the past, what climate is doing now, and how climate will change in the future. 

We’ve been working very closely with the countries particularly with their national meteorological services, the department of environment and regional organisations such as SPREP, the University of the South Pacific and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community to undertake necessary research into things like temperatures change over the last 30 years or how rainfall has changed in the last 30 years. And then building that information into a data base and using that information to project what’s going to happen in the next 30 or 50 years as carbon dioxide level increase in a warming planet.
PACNEWS: You’ve been working with the Pacific Islands countries for the past three years. Does that also include capacity building on various projects in each country?

CAMBERS: The Pacific Climate Change science programme consists of research, capacity building and information sharing. With regards to capacity building we’ve held several regional workshops involving  national meteorological services, representatives from ministry of environment, ministry of finance or fisheries  to basically share with them information  we continually find out about past climate and future climate. 

We’ve also started a series of  in country visits where we are visiting all the 15 countries at least twice to install and provide training in a climate database management system where all the observation and information can be put, stored safely forever . It’s a tool we call CLYDE. So far we’ve completed visits to Samoa, Vanuatu, Kiribati and Tonga but we are steadily working through every country and will get to Solomon Islands and Fiji too as the year progresses. 

We are doing a second series of in country visits where we will be sharing the information about how climate is going to change in the future – what we call the projections. So we will provide training to the met services representatives but also to other people - possibly other ministries and providing a software tool that we call ‘climate futures so everybody will be able to see what the best scientific projective changes in climate are for both Solomon and Fiji as well as the 13 partner countries.   

One of the most important aspects is the information sharing is preparing many different types of products that will go to the countries, first of all a fairly technical scientific report which is targeted at universities and the met services. We are also providing country brochures, which will have basic information for general audience. It will be in English and there will be at least one local language per country. So that also helps to get the very technical information out to a more general audience.
PACNEWS: On Monday we saw the presentation of posters from the 15 Pacific Island countries and Timor Leste. Can you describe the posters? Are they similar in nature on the climatic conditions of each country?
CAMBERS: We are very actually excited about the posters because they represents the kind of cooperation first of all our scientists but predominantly the people in the met services in the region to document how climate has changed, how temperature has changed in your country and how rainfall had changed over the last 30 or 40 years. I think some of them go that far back and also to explain some of the impact of the changes in more store storms and more flooding for instance. It varies from country to country, so we are so excited about the posters. We think it’s a very   important part of the process of communication. Everyone likes picture, everyone can relate to a picture sometime people don’t relate to words or numbers but when you see a picture, there is a whole wealth of information in there. I’m hoping it will very useful for the individual countries to use in communication and other training activities when they go back.
PACNEWS: The impact of climate change in small island states in low lying atolls like Kiribati and Tuvalu, how bad is it from the research you’ve done?
CAMBERS: That’s a very good question because it’s a very difficult question to answer. What we have found out in our research is that climate change is so much from year to year. EL NINO for instance and LA NINA depend on whether you have heavy rainfall or whether you have drought, whereas climate change is the change due to the increase carbon dioxide in the air. 

It’s a very slow gradual change, so you trying to pick out this very tiny change due to increase carbon dioxide from a much bigger climate variation that all fluctuation we call it that goes on from year to year and sometimes from decade to decade. So it’s very difficult to look at something like beach erosion and disappearing beaches in Kiribati and say that’s due to sea level rise because we don’t know that yet. 

We know sea level rise is one factor causing the beaches for instance to erode but there are other factors I know  a lot of the beaches in Kiribati have been eroded, through beach mining, lagoon , reefs , there also quite a lot of pollution  and dumping of garbage which does not help the beach system either. When we look at the impacts we can certainly say that at least some of the impacts we are seeing increase erosion, increased flooding due to climate change but we can’t necessary say that this impact increase flooding is a consequence of climate change only.
PACNEWS: Climate refugees are the results of the impacts of climate Change. There are talks about moving people from small island states to bigger countries such as Australia and New Zealand, what’s your opinion on this?
CAMBERS: Well I think every island, every country is going to work out for itself. Because I know often moving from your islands is the last resort option. People want to stay because of history and their ancestors buried there and this sort of things, so I think it’s something that every country is going to have to face and consider the best possible option themselves. 

I know that in some of atoll countries for instance the MALDIVES in the Indian Ocean, they have been looking at more of a centralization policy, trying to move people from maybe from very vulnerable islands to a more central bigger island, that is slightly different but it’s also another form of environmental refugees whether you actually change your country or you just move within your own country. 

I  think it’s a sort of very sensitive issue because in UN terms a concept of environmental refugees doesn’t exist, there is no legal backing to this term so  I think that’s also  something that’s got to be addressed. But it’s something that countries are going to face and deal with at different times. Certainly as we going on to this century, it is going to become more and more and more of an issue.
PACNEWS: Is Australia doing enough to help Pacific island Countries mitigate the effects of Climate Change?
CAMBERS: Australia is doing a lot in helping the countries adapt to Climate Change and the focus is still on adaptation. But I think the world as a whole including Australia, the United Kingdom, Fiji, Maldives, we have to redouble our efforts to really highlight and focus again as we did before Copenhagen on mitigation. I think that’s the message we got to keep hammering home. Yes we have to adapt. There is certain aspect of climate change we know is happening, we got to adapt to them. So unless we face the hard decisions, which involve mitigation, then we are not addressing the issue at all.
PACNEWS: What’s your message to Pacific Islands countries in the work you do, especially helping the islands tackle the burning issue of climate change facing region?
CAMBERS: With the Pacific Climate Science Programme, the results we will be producing at the end of the year we hope will give the best possible science that is available now. I have confidence in our scientist and their collaboration with countries that will give the countries good information about what’s going to happen by 2030. 

I think one of the things countries can use this is to develop their own policy as to which areas they should  tackle first - coastal erosion or coastal flooding or maybe in prediction or projection to prepare for an approaching drought or a water resources issue that they should concentrate on. The trouble with climate change is that it affects every aspect of daily lives so if you are in the small islands you can’t deal with everything at once. You’ve got to have a sort of more targeted approach so I’m really hoping that our projection information will help the countries determine what they need to prioritise

Photo of Dr. Gillian Cambers was sourced from the Greenhouse 2011 website.

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