8 November 2022, Sharm el-Sheikh – The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 saw the world transition to a “new normal”, relying on virtual platforms and the internet to stay connected, conduct business, and for education.
The Pacific was no different, with most Pacific Island countries being the first to close their borders at the start of the pandemic, and travel coming to a standstill. For the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), this prompted them to find innovative solutions that would enable them to still provide technical services and support for their Member countries, despite the lockdown.
They shared these innovative solutions during a side event on Resilience Building in the Virtual Space, hosted at the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion at the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
Highlighted during the side event was the inception and development of SPREP’s e-Learning platform, a Moodle platform, which now hosts virtual trainings such as the Pacific Climate Change Centre Training Courses and the Inform Project e-Learning Series.
Dr. George Carter, the SPREP Consultant at the helm of the project to develop the e-Learning Platform, shared that the idea came about in 2020 when the pandemic started and put on hold a number of training courses that were scheduled to be carried out for participants from around the Pacific.
The e-Learning platform was officially launched in 2021 as a way for the PCCC to connect with Members in order for the training courses to be conducted. The platform has since expanded to host the Inform project e-learning series, and Climate Finance Access Network (CFAN) training
Efforts by Pacific National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) to carry out a virtual transition in order to ensure that crucial information on weather and climate reach the last mile during the pandemic, were also shared by the President of the World Meteorological Organization’s Regional Area V (WMO RAV) and Director of the Tonga Met Service, Mr ‘Ofa Fa’anunu.
According to Mr Fa’anunu, a number of steps were taken by Pacific NMHSs to build resilience in the virtual space, including the migration of websites and databases to virtual Cloud technology, and the convening of virtual Ocean and Climate Outlook Forums (OCOF) for all NMHSs, coordinated by SPREP.
“OCOFs have been organised since 2007, and in April this year, we celebrated our 175th OCOF,” Mr Fa’anunu said. “During these forums, all of the Pacific Met services come together to share their forecasts and predictions which helps us to get a feeling of the climate outlook and to come to a consensus as a region.”
The first virtual Pacific Islands Climate Outlook Forum (PICOF) was conducted in 2020 at the start of the pandemic, and since then, hybrid PICOFs have been organised to happen twice a year. The PICOFs will be moving more into the virtual environment in the future, according to Mr Fa’anunu.
“Some Met Services, such as the Samoa Met Service, also started to move into the use of mobile apps and social media, which is a very powerful tool to get the message out to the public,” he added.
But the virtual transition do not come without its challenges, some of which are the limited access to internet in some countries in the Pacific, as well as the slow speed and high cost of connectivity. The capacity of Pacific communities to understand the information in a virtual space was also identified as a challenge, as well as the need for reforms within NMHSs to accommodate more IT capacity.
Despite these challenges, Mr Fa’anunu remains optimistic, in that there exist opportunities to support NMHSs through this transition into the virtual space. This includes the Weather Ready Pacific Decadal Programme of Investment, which is a ten-year investment plan which will further strengthen the resilience and service delivery of Pacific NMHSs, resulting in more resilient communities and a more resilient Pacific.
The Resilience Building in the Virtual Space side event was hosted at the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion at COP27 on 8 November 2022.
The Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion at COP27 is a Pacific partnership with Aotearoa New Zealand managed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).
The Pavilion was featured at the twenty-seventh Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change hosted in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt from 7- 18 December 2022.
To learn more about the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion please visit: https://www.sprep.org/cop27