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Panel 21: Responses to environment in distress: Community-based social protection and climate change in the Pacific


Steven Ratuva , Joeli Veitayaki, Dalila Gharbaoui

Session presentation

International declarations such as the Paris Agreement recognize the significance of indigenous knowledge and culture in responding to environmental destruction but the challenge is how to bridge the gap between international discourse and the reality on the ground. Part of the reality is that many formal means to address environmental damage such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF), now threatened by Trump’s election, are inaccessible to many small island states in the Pacific because of the complex and cumbersome preconditions. Much of the climate change associated programs by donors are either for short term responses or driven by donor political and economic interests. This panel provides an opportunity to rethink about environmentally sustainable alternatives such as the use of indigenous knowledge which can be used to respond to increasing climate change impacts. This involves the use of traditional forms of social protection, environmental conservation, innovation, farming, labour organization, technology and skills which are culturally embedded, locally owned, cheaper and sustainable. The panel also explores conversational spaces between indigenous knowledge and science-policy approaches in creating a diverse, inclusive and empowering intellectual and political environment and framework for addressing climate change. Of significance here is how indigenous knowledge can be integrated into formal environmental and climate change policies at the national, regional and international levels.

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

The reason land matters: planned relocations in Fiji and Papua New Guinea

Dalila Gharbaoui (Center for Ethnic and Migration Studies (CEDEM), University of Liege)

Retreating from coastal areas in response to natural hazard events has long been a part of Pacific Island communities’ adaptive strategies, culture and practices. However, a number of displacement events have surpassed usual patterns of mobility. In the near future, the adverse effects of climate change are likely to incite relocations of whole communities either in anticipation of or in response to natural hazard induced disasters. This represents a complex process in region of legal pluralism and where a majority of land is under customary tenure. Yet international standards the preservation of human rights must be embedded in these projects and all climate change adaptation strategies, lest these relocations be forced and unlawful displacements. Using contemporary and Colonial-era case studies of community relocations in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, most following recurrent natural hazard induced displacement events, this paper questions the extent to which planned relocations in the Pacific Island countries and territories can be considered successful or durable. Two primary, and contrasting, interpretations of human rights are applied to planned relocations strategies. Proponents of collective rights argue for the primacy of social development, community well-being and the preservation of collective land rights while proponents of individual human rights put forward a neoliberal view on economic growth, individual well-being and logistical aspects of the relocation process. We argue for an intermediate position to ensure relocations are sustainable and maintains the link between Islanders and their land, which has been an extension of their identity for millennia.

"Us Tongans, we cultivate big things" Horticulture projects in the food security and climate change policies in the Kingdom of Tonga

Gaia Cottino (Università degli studi di Napoli L'Orientale)

The Tongan population does not separate itself from the surrounding natural environment, to the point that there is no term to define it and objectify it. Practices and social relationships revolve around such natural environment guaranteeing the community equilibrium: the agricultural destination of a field goes therefore way beyond the fulfilling of nutritive needs and it is rather connected to the social function of the cultivation. Furthermore, the land division in gendered areas of pertinence with connected specific functions makes them neither homogenous nor interchangeable. After briefly analyzing in a historical and anthropological perspective the de-territorialization and re-territorialization processes which began in the XIX century under the western missionaries' influence I will highlight the extent to which they are still visible today in the aid economy agricultural development policies. By providing ethnographic data I will analyze and trace a comparison between two projects aimed at both guaranteeing local food security and facing climate change effects: a recent “urban horticulture” aid project drawn upon standard and international guidelines and a pilot project launched by the Local Ministry of agriculture (MAAF) which is drawn upon local knowledge. While the latter is still in progress, the first is not taking root because the population does not master the western cultivation techniques and the dispensed staples have no social value.

Advocating Pacific Islands Solutions to Pacific Islands Problems: community-based climate change adaptation and mitigation in Gau Island, Fiji

Joeli Veitayaki (University of the South Pacific)

Climate change is affecting many facets of life in Small Island Developing States in the Pacific Islands and demands an iterative and integrated management arrangements. Agriculture systems, marine resources use and livelihood sources are all reeling from the devastating impacts of climate change and associated sea level changes. To cope, Pacific Islanders, such as the ones I work with in Fiji, are evoking community-based adaptation and mitigation measures that incorporate customary and science based approaches that are currently a part of their social and cultural disaster risk management strategies and coping mechanisms. This unique Pacific Islands approach is empowering people to address complex and financially demanding climate change adaptation and mitigation challenges.
In this paper, I will examine the community-based adaptation and mitigation measures that are now used in Gau Island, Fiji. This will highlight the coping mechanism that the people are using and those they need to adopt to live with the changes that are expected in the future. The presentation will also propose some policies changes that will enhance community based initiatives and the application of the social and cultural disaster risk management and coping strategies that are the basis of empowerment and implantation of initiatives at the community level.

Leveraging maritime heritage brilliance to provide low carbon maritime solutions

Peter Nuttall (University of the South Pacific)

Pacific peoples invented the world’s first blue naval capacity and colonized most of the Pacific Ocean before continental people had voyaged out of sight of land. Hau’ofa and many others have described that Pacific peoples saw the Ocean as home and highway, not alien and barrier. For millennia Pacific technologists led the world in development of naval and maritime architecture, with the Fijian drua (also called kalia in Tonga and ‘alia in Samoa) widely recognized as the pinnacle of Pacific naval design. For millennia there was no transport crisis in the Pacific. Today there is a growing body of research that shows transport to be the greatest fuel user and GHG emission generator for the region.. Despite maritime transport’s centrality to all aspects of sustainable development and climate change response, it remains largely invisible in regional discourse and response. Yet it is a cross-cutting issue and there is a growing connectivity crisis on the Ocean that never existed in the pre-European contact era, especially for the most remote and vulnerable. In this paper we track this decline in knowledge and prowess and suggest modern adaptation of traditional knowledge to now implement low carbon and community based maritime transport solutions in the context of the growing project for Gau and southern Lomaiviti climate change resilience building in maritime Fiji as a catalyst for change.

ʻToetupu’ (Still Growing): Innovating Coastal Management Training for youth and communities in 7 new Special Management Areas (SMAs) in Vavaʻu, Tonga

Salesi Kauvaka (Climate Resilience Sector Project)

Hikaione Loumoli

Lea Lani Kinikini Kauvaka (EU PacTVET project)

This paper considers the context of 7 new Special Management Areas (SMAs) being established by the government of Tonga with ADB climate grant funding across 7 remote Vavaʻu coastal communities in Tonga: Utulei, Utungake, Talihau, Hunga, Ofu, Lape, Falevai. This is a major step for Tonga to complete so many villages at once. The paper explores the Tongan concepts for learning such as Konai Thaman’s ʻkakala’ framework as well as unpacking Tongan concept for “youth”: ʻtoetupu’ which literally means “still growing”, as theoretical foundations for education at community level as well as across formal and informal contexts. The paper reports on scoping research designed to support the collaborative development of a cross-sectoral bridging programme with a local NGO, Tonga Voyaging Society, USP Vavaʻu Centre, and a local pilot high school and tries to understand what are the challenges for SMAs in the education context of Vavaʻu as a remote island group of about 15,000 people. This research asks three questions to frame the paper: 1) what’s going on? 2) where do SMAs fit in in current education contexts (formal and non-formal)? and 3) what actions are needed to positively prepare these 7 communities to best manage their SMAs from within? It ends by exploring and envisioning some proposals around indigenous curriculum including “kai" (food security), “toutai" (sustainable fishing), "vai" (water sustainability), “fonua organika” (organic farm/permaculture) and "kaivai" (navigation).

Cyclone Winston – A Curse and Blessing for the Villagers on Koro Island, Fiji

Michael Fink (University of Goettingen)

In February 2016, Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston became the first Category 5 Cyclone to ever make landfall on Fiji Islands so far with Koro Island being hit worst. This paper gives insights in the recovery process of the village community of Nabuna, Koro Island. In 2011 and 2012 the author spent two month there applying participatory research methods on social security. One year after Cyclone Winston the author spent another 16 days in the same community to follow the ongoing recovery process.

This paper does not only give insights into the dimensions of destruction regarding STC Winston – impacts on a scale that Fiji did not experience before. This paper concentrates on the strategies the villagers take up to cope. In some way, they see Winston as a blessing as the recovery work is mainly done as communal work which empowers the community. Not only social tensions are becoming less. As the villagers connect communal work with traditional lifestyles, it also strengthens cultural identity.

A tropical cyclone is conceptualised as a climate related natural disaster with global warming and sea level rise intensifying the strength and impact of a cyclone. Therefore, insights are given in qualities and possibilities of climate change adaptation and disaster risk management in village communities of small island developing countries.

The Value of Video: Visual Anthropology and Climate Change Interventions in the Pacific

Mike Poltorak (University of Kent)

In the creative spaces of communication between people from Oceania, researchers and anthropologists of the Pacific has emerged some of the most vital contributions to anthropological and wider debates on reciprocal research, collaborative anthropology, reverse anthropology and research accessibility.
The contribution of video and film as research has largely been ignored, despite a longstanding use in Pacific nations, growing local film productions and key research carried out in Oceania key to the sub-discipline of visual anthropology.
The juxtaposition of the vernacular use of video in Tonga (and how anthropologists and anthropological research are valued in Tonga) with the style and content of international documentaries on climate change that feature Pacific islands provide potential inspiration for future more effective interventions.
This paper explores how video’s value as a vital research tool and vehicle of collaboration can lead to a more publically engaged and transformational modes of representation and intervention in climate change.

Enduring Connections– Heritage in unprecedented times of change and loss

Bryony Onciul (University of Exeter)

This paper introduces a new research project called Enduring Connections. Building on the findings of an exploratory project called ‘Troubled Waters: Heritage in Times of Accelerated Climate Change’, Enduring Connections questions the meanings of heritage in times of loss and unprecedented environmental change, and the role of voice, gender, and agency in countering stereotypes and creating positive action. The project focuses upon Kiribati as a specific place that has global symbolic resonance for current ways of thinking about heritage and climate change. I-Kiribati are expected to face whole-scale displacement of their entire population by the end of this century due to accelerated sea-level rise, exacerbated by socio-economic stressors. The project’s multi-disciplinary and holistic approach brings together: museums, archives, environmental humanities, advocacy, activism, filmmaking, community and local project partners KiriCAN. It considers both the immediate environmental challenges and longer term strategies for a future where people and cultural heritage are dislocated from their land and source environment. As the project is in its early stages, the paper will discuss the project approach, preliminary finding, and show clips from the film made during the exploratory project.

Circumstances of a Pacific people in diaspora: A retrospective analysis of I-Nikunau

Keith Dixon (Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha)

This study is about a people with indigenous, ancestral, cultural and continuing social and residential connections with the reef island of Nikunau (coordinates 1° 21′ 0″ S, 176° 27′ 0″ E). The study is a retrospective analysis of this Pacific people’s present diasporic circumstances and how they arose. As a contribution to knowledge, the broad scholarly value of the study lies in illuminating and stimulating interest in the demographic, economic, social, political and cultural dynamics of peoples associated with atolls and similar islands in the Pacific, and elsewhere perhaps. Much of the study’s importance stems from perceived inadequacies in the circumstances of these peoples and a consequent desire to improve them from a critical, better-informed standpoint. In turn, the illumination, and concern, comes from me, as the researcher and part of an utu (=kinship group)by affinity, identifying, grappling with, interpreting and articulating situations and events I experienced, observed, was told about and read about, including in documents associated with said situations and events and in numerous studies by other researchers in which these situations and events have at least warranted a mention.