Submitted by Sosikeni Lesa on Fri, 12/02/2022 - 11:08
Extreme weather event in Fiji
December 2, 2022 by Sosikeni Lesa
Climate Change Resilience

01 December 2022, Sharm El Sheikh - Is the Pacific prepared enough to face the weather of the future brought about by climate change? The question formed the genesis of a discussion at the Moana Pacific Pavilion on the sidelines of COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt recently.

The “Preparing for Weather Events of the Future: A Weather Ready Pacific” side-event coordinated by the Kingdom of Tonga and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP) feature Samoa’s Minister for Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE), Hon. Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster, Vanuatu’s Minister of Climate Change, Hon. Ralph Regevanu, Niue’s Minister of Natural Resources, Hon. Mona Ainuú and the Permanent Representative of Tonga to the United Nations, Mr Viliami Va'inga Tone.

The Director of Tonga Met Service, Mr Ofa Fa’anunu, laid the foundation and reminded about the grim reality ahead, with more intense tropical cyclones, increased heat stress, extreme rainfalls, storm surges, droughts, sea level rise and marine heatwaves.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is very clear. The world is not on course to meeting the 1.5 degree Celsius target that the Pacific is advocating,” Mr Fa’anunu said.

In a bid to cushion Pacific communities against the impacts of these extreme events, Pacific leaders in 2021 endorsed the Weather Ready Pacific Decadal Programme of Investment, a 10-year programme to strengthen the region’s ability to anticipate, plan for, and respond to high impact and extreme weather, water, and ocean events.

The programme aims to protect communities by ensuring that forecasts and warnings are more specific about local conditions and potential impacts. It aims to support economies by ensuring that forecasts and warnings provide timely and targeted preparedness measures, limiting the impacts of severe weather events. The Weather Ready programme also aims to strengthen regional security.

Samoa’s Minister of MNRE, Hon. Toeolesulusulu said Samoa and Pacific countries need to collaborate with more international partners to strengthen existing forecasting capabilities.

“Our best source of information comes from weather monitoring, if we don’t have that information, we cannot prepare. This information has become even more important now for our planning as the impacts of climate change worsens,” he said.

 “But forecasts on cyclones, weather events, king tides can be improved with a better monitoring systems. We try to work with other partners to develop our multi-hazard warning systems. I know when the boom during the volcanic eruption came from Tonga, we were all wondering what was happening but if we had that information available to us immediately, we could have prepared a lot better.

He added: “When we were hit with king tides, it was through videos and Facebook live from Tonga and Samoa that we realized what was going on. We need to improve our systems to enable us to provide and support our countries.”

Vanuatu’s Minister of Climate Change, Hon. Regevanu, agrees.

“Vanuatu is listed as the most vulnerable country in the world, and it’s not only because we have the climate change effects but we’re also sitting on the ring of fire, so we have all that including volcanoes and we’ve had to evacuate entire islands,” he said. “When the Tonga volcano erupted, there was no warning in Vanuatu. We asked why was there no warning and the Forecast Office said they could do forecasts for tsunamis and earthquakes but we have no capacity to forecast tsunamis from volcanoes so there is a gap there.”

Minister Regevanu said the Pacific region is stronger together and there is a strong need to pool our resources together. “It can be a win for the region,” he said.

For Niue, Hon. Ainu’u said her nation’s challenges go beyond their vulnerabilities. 

“We have a team of five at the Met Office, and it is a huge task for them to undertake, in particular the demand from governments and communities to ensure that forecasts and predictions are correct and clear,” she said. “Over the years we have been impacted by many unforeseen natural disasters that are just unbelievable and we are seeing a lot of the changes each year, with multiple impacts on food security and the impact of communities in general and the ocean but having these predictions prior to an event is very important for us, we rely heavily on the Fiji met service and our partners in the region.”

She also reminded about the importance of marrying forecasts based on science and traditional knowledge available in the Pacific, to provide the best chance of protecting Pacific communities from extreme weather events.

Ambassador Tone concurred, highlighting that Tonga faces similar impacts other Pacific countries are struggling with.

“In the case of Tonga, we suffer from many extreme weather events as demonstrated by the cyclones in 2018 and 2020. They were major cyclones costing about 32% of GDP. Not to mention earthquake, which our nation is still recovering from,” he said.

The Director General of SPREP, Mr Sefanaia Nawadra, who moderated the event, welcomed all the perspectives, saying the different views expressed during the panel discussion will contribute to better systems to improve forecasting to protect Pacific populations. He reminded that the services provided by National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) save lives and as such, it deserves all the support they need. For more information, please contact the Pacific Meteorological Desk Partnership, at [email protected]

The 27th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP27) was held Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt from 6 to 18 November 2022.

It was being attended by Pacific leaders and their delegations.  The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) is lead of the One CROP, working together to provide support to Pacific Islands.