University of Canterbury (UC) Research Manager at the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, Dr Christina Tausa, wants to see the Global North commit to the promises of the Paris Agreement at COP27, the 27th annual UN meeting on climate in Egypt.
Dr Tausa recently returned from a two-week research trip to Samoa where she interviewed around 20 families about the impacts of climate change.
The research is part of a ground-breaking Pacific-led, multi-disciplinary project investigating all aspects of climate across 16 Pacific countries, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).
Dr Tausa’s research documented physical and social challenges, such as food security and cultural impacts.
“The elderly and fishermen said fish were once abundant and they could go and gather shellfish as well, but now there is hardly anything due to ocean warming. Even in the plantations, it’s now really hard to grow things because there is just no rain, whereas before, the crops were abundant,” Dr Tausa said.
She says people have adapted by planting crops further inland, but some must walk for several hours to work the land. Many families have moved inland; more have left the coast since Dr Tausa moved from her village to Aotearoa New Zealand 16 years ago.
“When we left there were five families living in the village where we lived, now one family remains and they are also planning to leave and follow the others inland. They move from meeting houses they belong to, and this can involve a loss of heritage.”
There were other changes – the reduction in crops corresponding to an increase in unhealthy processed food consumption, higher temperatures making it difficult to work outdoors after 9am, villages shrinking due to erosion from the sea, and increased sea spray necessitating replacing iron roofs every year or every six months, rather than every five years, says Dr Tausa.
“A lot of people were preparing to come to New Zealand as seasonal workers, so they can contribute to their family. Some of their land is not productive so the only way for some is to work overseas so their families can buy goods.”
There is a lack of data, however Dr Tausa says the people “know their land, when it’s not productive and when it is”.
More research will help Pacific nations to represent themselves at international forums, such as COP27, she says.
The research project will produce an assessment report, with 70 contributing experts, policy and research briefs for the region, a Pacific-wide data base in climate change impacts, and an interactive map that shows where people are moving to.
Ultimately the project will help Pacific Islanders find solutions, says Dr Tausa.
“We want to harmonise indigenous knowledge with scientific knowledge in a way that is practical and effective for the people of this vulnerable region,” she says.