The Pacific Islands region is responsible for just 0.03 per cent of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s already feeling the effects of climate change – warming oceans, drought, coral ecosystems destroyed, extreme weather events, ocean acidification and rising sea levels. With 50 per cent of Pacific Island populations living in coastal areas, sea level rise risks rendering the islands uninhabitable.
The United Nations’ Paris Agreement committed the world to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero”, and this transition is now underway. With Pacific Island country leaders already implementing adaptation measures and looking at relocation options for their climate refugees, limiting global warming to a 1.5-degree temperature rise is the line in the sand for their very survival.
Despite such challenges, Pacific Island countries (PICs) are leading the charge in climate change action and are setting some of the world’s most ambitious emissions mitigation targets under the Paris Agreement. In fact, seven PICs have already set 100 per cent renewable energy targets.
Yet unlike other countries, the imperative for PICs to undertake mitigation efforts isn’t just the need to reduce their emissions, it’s also to overcome energy poverty and an over-reliance on imported fossil fuels for their energy and transport needs.
Such dependency can debilitate national budgets, expose small economies to diesel price shocks and increase the vulnerability of critical infrastructure to extreme weather events. This particularly impacts the smaller, more remote PICs and poor households.
The tool helps policymakers quickly identify potential co-benefits and trade-offs that need to be considered in planning.
With the dual need to both adapt to the impacts of climate change, and implement greenhouse gas mitigation strategies that deliver solutions to multiple development challenges, a more holistic approach to planning is needed.
Easier said than done. Adaptation and mitigation can be challenging to implement together. While both aim to reduce the negative impacts of climate change, historically they’ve been addressed separately in policy approaches. Sometimes they’re actually seen as competing priorities – even though failing to consider them together can produce negative consequences, where action on one inadvertently undermines efforts of the other.
So, ClimateWorks Australia developed a Strategic Mitigation Adaptation and Resilience Tool (SMART) for planning to address these challenges, through a better understanding of the links between mitigation actions and adaptation or resilience outcomes, specific to Pacific Islands.
The tool helps policymakers quickly identify potential co-benefits and trade-offs that need to be considered in planning. Ultimately, it will also reveal “least regrets” or “no regrets” actions. As a downloadable, Excel-based resource, the SMART is part of a suite of materials supporting PIC leaders to develop and implement their own long-term, low-emissions development strategies.
The tool was developed in close consultation with stakeholders from across the Pacific, and draws specifically on the work of ClimateWorks’ Pathways to Deep Decarbonisation in 2050 (which contributed to the global Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project).
This project supports analysis of possible opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors of a country’s economy. In each sector, the pathways approach looks at four distinct types of actions or “pillars” to reduce emissions:
- Ambitious energy efficiency in all sectors leads to a halving of the energy intensity of the economy
- Low-carbon electricity is supplied by renewable or a mix of renewable energy and either CCS or nuclear power at similar costs
- Electrification and fuel switching from fossil fuels to bioenergy, and from coal to gas, reduces emissions from transport, industry and buildings
- Non-energy emissions are reduced through process improvements and CCS in industry, while a profitable shift from livestock grazing to carbon forestry offsets any remaining emissions.
Applying this to SMART, corresponding adaptation and resilience indicators were then summarised through evaluation of PICs’ nationally determined contributions (NDC) indicators. Mitigation actions are individually considered against each adaptation and resilience indicator, followed by a review of potential co-benefits, barriers and trade-offs on both, at a Pacific regional and global scale.
The tool highlights that across all sectors, there’s a range of “no regrets” or “least regrets” mitigation actions that can have co-benefits for adaptation and resilience outcomes – an example showing how this works can be seen below.
For example, in the transport sector, which accounts for an average 75 per cent of oil consumption in Pacific Island countries, there’s an urgent need for low-carbon solutions, particularly in shipping.
Using renewable energy technologies for commercial ships in the Pacific region would allow fleets of smaller vessels to reach small ports and remote communities, which are currently not serviced by large ships. This would produce multiple economic, environmental, social and cultural benefits. Further, reduced reliance on imported fossil fuel will contribute to macroeconomic growth and stability and aid poverty reduction.
It would also help avoid large balance-of-payment deficits and increase energy security. As PICs rely heavily on imported foods and are vulnerable to rising food prices, reduced transport and fuel costs will alleviate compounding economic effects.
But there are also region-specific challenges to be considered.
While fuel switching offers a range of benefits, including economic savings from reduced reliance on imported fossil fuels, biofuels present a particular challenge in the Pacific.
Fiji already uses bagasse (the residue from sugar cane processing) for most of its energy requirements within the sugar cane sector. For high Pacific Islands, other forms of biomass resources derived from waste from agricultural and forestry industries such as palm oil and wood products offer suitable sources of energy to replace fossil fuels.
And yet, sugar cane production is known to have a wide range of negative environmental impacts. These include water pollution from chemicals used in cane growing, sedimentation through soil erosion and waste from sugar production, which not only threaten the biodiversity of river systems and coastal areas, but also the cultures and livelihoods of the communities that rely on them.
Crucially, SMART takes such factors into account, allowing leaders to consider how geography, social and environmental factors need to be considered when looking at certain mitigation initiatives.
The tool is designed to be used as part of the Horizon to Horizon guide, which outlines a step-by-step process for designing a long-term, low-emissions development strategy.
While SMART in its current form is specific to the Pacific, it’s expected that users from other geographies will make further modifications to suit their country context and needs.