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World First Climate Change Action In South Pacific

Waikato Team Spearheads World First Climate Change Action In South Pacific

A Waikato University-based team is spearheading world-first research into ways of managing the major potential risks associated with changing climate and rising sea levels in the Pacific Islands Region as a result of global warming.

A partnership, involving the International Global Change Institute (IGCI) – a financially self-supporting unit within the university – and Auckland-headquartered environmental and engineering consultancy Meritec, has won a ground-breaking contract from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

“It’s the first time real on-the-ground action has been taken by the international community to comprehensively address the risks posed by the possibility of rising sea levels caused by global warming,” says Professor John Hay of the IGCI.

“We’ll be looking to see how these climate risks can be reduced in cost-effective, environmentally friendly and socially acceptable ways. The international community has a major interest in this work because of the enormous potential risks, both human and financial, that Pacific Island Countries faces.”

The ADB contract includes studying how rising sea levels and extreme weather events may affect infrastructure, food production and people’s lifestyles in the Cook Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, as well as the implications for Government planning.

The contract, which has just recently got underway, is set to run until June next year and is worth about $250,000 to IGCI. It will involve up to eight IGCI staff directly.

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Work in the Cook Islands will involve studying how high a new harbour breakwater needs to be and how crop production should be handled given the risks of soils being invaded more frequently with salt water. One idea is for taro to be produced in elevated soil beds.

In the Federated States of Micronesia, the IGCI team will assist with completion of a round-island road, to ensure the project takes account of climate-related risks. It will also work with a coastal community which lives at the base of a cliff and therefore has nowhere it can immediately retreat to over time as sea levels rise.

“Further up the chain we’ll be working with the island governments so that their national strategic development plans take global warming risks into account,” says Prof Hay.

“We’ll also look at the way building permits and regulations, planning and health regulations are handled.”

Once the project is complete, the knowledge gained will be available to other countries and regions to help them put risk management strategies in place.

“The costs associated with global warming in the South Pacific are potentially huge,” says Prof Hay. “Getting in now to start doing this risk planning is crucial for helping reduce those costs, both at a human and financial level.”

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