Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Feb 07, 2022 Updated 17 Days ago
The PSIDS require a holistic approach to development as business-as-usual is proving to be detrimental to the ocean ecosystem and the people whose lives depend on it
Blue opportunities for the Pacific Island Developing States (PIDS)

The Pacific Island Developing States (PSIDS) are blessed with close proximity to the vast ocean and its resources. For inhabitants of landlocked countries and territories, or states that are far away from the ocean, a visit to the ocean is an experience of a lifetime. In the PSIDS, almost 90 percent of the people live within 10 kilometres of the ocean, which implies that many houses, businesses, and infrastructure are also in very close proximity to the ocean. The Pacific Ocean is not regarded as something that divides or separates the islands, instead it is considered to be something that connects them as the ocean is the means for transportation, trade, and many other forms of economic activity. It is also regarded as the ‘mother’, since it provides food, livelihoods, recreation, and solace for almost all inhabitants of the PSIDS. Therefore, the very existence and survival of the island nations are contingent upon the ocean.

The Pacific Ocean is not regarded as something that divides or separates the islands, instead it is considered to be something that connects them as the ocean is the means for transportation, trade, and many other forms of economic activity.

However, this proximity to the ocean brings about unique challenges exacerbated by the impacts of climate change. Slow onset events—like rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and salt-water intrusion with coastal flooding swallowing arable land and white sandy beaches—are all taking a huge toll and are impacting the lives of the people. The PSIDS are greatly resource-constrained and very vulnerable to these calamities as tourism, primary agricultural industries, and fisheries are the largest foreign exchange earners for many of the PSIDS. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these countries are at the brink of an economic crisis. As a result, the notions of sustainable development, green transition, and blue economy (and their sister concepts), together with climate actions, are inseparable from each other as these serve as the foundations of developmental priorities and a sustainable future. All these point towards a common goal of achieving the development priorities set in the PSIDS’ respective national development plans.

The PSIDS today need to work towards practical, achievable, and concrete measures for achieving economic growth whilst taking into account the environmental and social implications of this development. One such initiative was the development of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) soon after the Paris Agreement. Following that were the NDC-implementation roadmaps and the Low Emissions Development Strategy (LEDS). Due to the lack of expertise in the region, the Regional Pacific NDC Hub emerged to assist with developing mitigation options for the PSIDS. Aside from this, the PSIDS collectively worked on the Strategy 2030, which is a 10-year plan envisioning sustainability, low-carbon growth and development, and climate resilience, working towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Due to their proximity to the ocean, one must realise that a small action at the ridge is going to have a consequence on the reef in the PSIDS. For instance, unsustainable agricultural practices or inappropriate waste disposal would all end up in the ocean.

The PSIDS are greatly resource-constrained and very vulnerable to these calamities as tourism, primary agricultural industries, and fisheries are the largest foreign exchange earners for many of the PSIDS.

Even though the PSIDS are active in the climate change arena, the mitigation impact is minute as the greenhouse gas emissions from these small island nations are negligible. The larger emitters need to take drastic actions to reduce emissions if a global impact is to be realised. So, to achieve their development goals, the PSIDS might have to focus more on mitigation and adaptation strategies that can bring about the anticipated development and economic growth in the region.

Vulnerable communities have been working on coastal conservation methods by constructing sea walls, dykes, and groynes. On the other hand, nature-based solutions for coastline protection have been proposed as suitable and cheaper alternatives with added benefits. This includes planting mangroves as the first line of defence to reduce the wave intensity and storm surge, and having seagrass to prevent soil erosion and stabilise sediments. Mangroves also provide added co-benefits including key ecosystem services, such as coastal protection and fisheries production together with high carbon sequestration capability. The coral reef restoration is also essential for damping waves and trapping sediments. Protection from storm surges and waves is also provided by dunes and sandbanks. Shoreline erosion is also prevented by oyster reefs. All these reef systems need to be restored for the entire ecosystem to work. In addition, designating marine protected areas or taboo areas where fishing activities are not permitted have been found to be effective in getting the ecosystem to bounce back and flourish. Nature does heal by itself, for which human exploitation must cease.

Another important aspect is sustainable and climate-smart agriculture for the region. The PSIDS have started facing the challenge of food insecurity, which has compelled Kiribati to purchase land in Fiji to grow their food. To avert this challenge, crops that are drought and salinity resistant need to be engineered. In addition, with the population and cities being in close proximity to the ocean, most public and private infrastructure development are also very vulnerable. Hence, financing and engineering of resilient infrastructure is required, which can withstand the wrath of climate change. A large-scale climate-resilient infrastructure transformation is crucial. Of course, enormous financing will be required, which can be met with smart blended financing opportunities. Climate insurance for infrastructure, agriculture, and other investments is also another mechanism through which swift recovery from disaster events can be achieved. Climate loss and damage compensation has been another tool that could potentially assist the PSIDS in achieving their developmental goals. The loss and damage compensation discussions in climate negotiations date back to 1991; under this mechanism, the affected countries can claim compensation from the high emitting nations.

Mangroves also provide added co-benefits including key ecosystem services, such as coastal protection and fisheries production together with high carbon sequestration capability. The coral reef restoration is also essential for damping waves and trapping sediments.

As these countries are dependent on tourism for foreign exchange, and many tourism developments are around the coastlines, robust strategies need to be in place to protect the coastlines from the threat of rising sea levels. It must be made mandatory that the tourism developers properly manage the health of the ocean, its ecosystem balance, and its biodiversity in achieving sustained economic activity and avoiding marine ecosystem degradation. Monitoring this is very important and any change detected needs to be rectified at the earliest.

Maritime transportation connecting the region in a global village is inescapable. The current technologies used in transportation are outdated with archaic business models that are largely dependent on diesel-propelled ships. As a means of developing the blue economy, the PSIDS launched the Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership (PBSP) with the key focus of decarbonising the maritime shipping sector. A paradigm shift towards newer low/zero carbon shipping is imperative. This will not only increase the carbon abatement but also provide added benefits such as unleashing the region from its dependence on volatile fossil fuel prices whilst providing modern, safe, and reliable transportation.

A large-scale climate-resilient infrastructure transformation is crucial. Of course, enormous financing will be required, which can be met with smart blended financing opportunities.

Initiatives such as designating marine protected areas, sustainable fisheries, low/zero carbon shipping, mitigation of sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion whilst protecting the vulnerable communities with nature-based solutions together with climate actions in line with the SDGs is the way forward. However, a paradigm shift in the way we do business is required as the business-as-usual approach does not have the flexibility needed for such an endeavour. These also require a lot of planning, financing, and innovative policies, prompting countries like Fiji  launch “Blue Bonds” and policy tools, i.e., the Climate Change Act, the National Ocean Policies, Displacement Guidelines, and Relocation Guidelines. The ocean is not a problem in the PSIDS’ equation, but a solution for the PSIDS providing a range of job opportunities, livelihood options, food security, eco-tourism, trade, and transportation. Putting the plan into action requires science-based informed decisions with well-coordinated, in-tandem, and synergetic support and enablers including finance, technology, policy and social acceptances that are aligned with the SDGs, NDCs, and development goals for green growth and blue economy development, not forgetting the blue-green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Concerted practical actions based on bankable strategies are required from the ridges to the reefs rather than standalone silo projects.

References

MCTTT, 2020. Decarbonising Domestic Shipping Industry: Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership. In: T. Ministry of Commerce, Tourism and Transport (Editor).

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Contributor

Ramendra Prasad

Ramendra Prasad

Dr. Ramendra Prasad is the Head of the Science Department and Senior Lecturer at University of Fiji.

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