Author: Patrick D. Nunn
(MENAFN – Conversation) The storms of climate change are approaching the Pacific Islands. Its impact has been greatly strengthened by decades of global inertia and the increasing dependence of islands in developed countries.
The background of this situation is very easy. For a long time, richer developed countries have borne the costs of climate change in poorer developing countries, making them dependent on Western solutions to their climate-related problems.
Read more: Their fate is not sealed: Pacific nations can survive climate change – if the local population takes the lead
But as rising sea water continues to penetrate these low Pacific islands, flooding infrastructure and even gravesites, it is clear that almost every externally sponsored effort for climate adaptation has failed here.
And as the costs of adaptation in rich countries increase, this funding support to developing countries is likely to decrease in the future.
We have been researching climate change adaptation in the Pacific for more than 50 years. We think this trend is not only unsustainable, but also dangerous. Pacific Island countries must start drawing from traditional knowledge to adapt to climate change, rather than continuing to rely on foreign funds.
On a global scale, climate adaptation strategies are for the most part ineffective or unsustainable.
This is especially so in non-Western contexts, where Western science continues to be privileged. In the Pacific Islands, this often happens because these Western strategies are always inferior to subordinates, even ignoring, funding worldviews based on recipient culture.
A good example is the desire of foreign donors to build hard structures, such as sea walls, to protect eroded beaches. This is the preferred strategy in rich countries.
But it does not include nature-based solutions such as replanting coastal mangroves, which can be more easily maintained in a worse context.
The availability of external financial assistance means developing countries are becoming more dependent on their wealthier counterparts for climate change adaptation.
For example, between 2016 and 2019, Australia provided A $ 300 million to help Pacific Island countries adapt to climate change, committed to $ 500 million until 2025. This left little need or incentive for these countries to fund their own adaptation needs .
Read more: Pacific Islanders will no longer be resistant to Australia’s slowness about climate change
But imagine this climate change scenario. Ten years from now, unprecedented rainfall has been dumped on Australia’s east coast for a long time. Some cities become flooded and remain so for weeks.
As a result, the Australian government is struggling to make the area that was recently flooded once more habitable. They built a series of massive coastal embankments to prevent rising seas from flooding populated areas.
The costs are exorbitant and unpredictable – like COVID-19 – so the government will find ways to mess up the money. This might include reducing financial assistance for climate change adaptation in poor countries.
Plunge in international aid
Economic modeling shows countries will bear the great costs of this century to adapt to climate change within their own borders. So, rich countries that are almost inevitable will rethink the extent of their assistance to developing countries.
In fact, even before the pandemic, Australia’s foreign aid budget was projected to reduce significantly by almost 12% from 2020 to 2023.
These factors do not bode well for developing countries, which will face higher costs of climate adaptation and reduced foreign aid.
Read more: Australia spends less on diplomacy than ever before – and its influence has suffered greatly
Building autonomy with ‘adaptation without cash’
The leaders of developing countries must anticipate this situation now, and reverse their dependence on outside assistance.
For example, rural communities in areas such as the Pacific Islands can revive the use of ‘cashless adaptation’. This means developing ways of adjusting livelihoods to climate change that don’t require money.
These methods include the deliberate planting of surplus crops, the use of traditional methods of food preservation and storage of water, the use of locally available materials free of charge and labor to build marine defenses. And that might even include the recognition that living along the coast makes you unnecessary to weather-related changes.
Before globalization, this was what happened for decades, even centuries, in places like the rural islands of the Pacific. Then, adaptation to a changing environment is supported by cooperation with one another and the use of freely available materials, not by cash.
The researchers also argued for a strategy of ‘waiting for the past’ regarding Hawaii’s climate adaptation.
And research from last year in Fiji shows more rural communities still have and use traditional methods to anticipate and withstand disasters, such as floods and drought.
Read more: Five years after the earthquake in Bhaktapur, Nepal, recovery led by relics united the community
We can take this argument further. Maybe it’s time for the Pacific Islands countries to rediscover traditional medicines, at least for primary health care, to complement western medicine.
Greater production and consumption of locally grown food, more than imported food, is also an important and valuable transformation.
The future of the developing world
The need for countries to adapt to unexpected phenomena such as climate change and COVID-19 encourages de-globalization – including that countries are less dependent on cross-border assistance and economic activity. So, it seems inevitable that in the current global situation, smaller economies will be forced to become more efficient and independent.
Restoring traditional adaptation strategies will not only encourage effective and sustainable climate change adaptation, but will also restore the confidence of the population in their own predetermined ways of dealing with environmental shocks.
This not only means finding ways to reduce costs through adaptation without cash, but also to explore radical ways to reduce dependency and increase autonomy. Calls for past practice, and traditional ways of coping, are worth considering.