Small is dutiful

OUR PLANET 9.6 - Climate and Action

Small is dutiful


describes the action Niue is taking with the help of UNEP and the GEF

No matter how small a nation may be, it is contributing to global warming and should become part of international efforts to combat it. Niue - an island about 65 kilometres in circumference in the South Pacific, with a population of some 2,000 people - is committed 100 per cent to the global goal of participating in the protection of our climate.

The traditional belief on Niue was that climate was the creation of God and that any changes that occurred were His way of doing things. There used to be a strong local opinion that we should not disturb God's work but should leave well alone.

However, there was a noticeable change of view, especially in the middle-age group range, after a national climate change awareness workshop conducted on 10 March 1998. About 70 local participants and six international experts attended and great interest was generated. For the first time a large number of nationals became aware of the problems that could arise as a result of climate change.

Specific tasks

From that moment on, six groups were given specific tasks for the preparation of our first national communication. The groups consist entirely of local experts, with the provision to hire expatriate consultants should the need arise.

The Greenhouse Gas Inventory group is well on the way to completing its task. Its work has highlighted the need for proper documentation and coordination of data from all sectors, and for integrating it within a centralized planning unit. It has also shown that in the base year, 1994, Niue emitted a total of 4,931.003605 gigagrams of carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels.

The Education, Training and Awareness group took a direct approach by conducting meetings with each village. The most striking response at these meetings was that the revelations about climate change and its possible impacts - especially on small island nations like ours - were very frightening. Almost 99 per cent of the people responded in favour of adopting better ways of using energy and concluded that policy makers should come up with realistic policies for this without compromising the present way of life too much. A participant at one of these meetings suggested that we should call a national climate change day of prayer where all nationals would congregate to give prayers to God to protect our Earth.

The awareness programme includes schools. The primary schools have already included climate change issues in their programme and staged a number of dramatic events, watched by parents and the general public, which showed impressive enthusiasm and understanding of climate change issues. One, where children wore sacks with greenhouse gases painted on them and spoke of how it is not good to produce too much of these gases, had a great impact on the audience.

A climate change talent quest held this summer, and attended by 200 to 300 people, was a great success. The message about protecting our climate was prominent in the composition of the songs. These will assist our awareness programme through the media, with radio broadcasts every fortnight and television clips on Sunday nights. Much of the general public on Niue is now very much aware of climate change and further efforts are being encouraged to maintain this high level of interest.

Mitigation strategies

The Government has already drawn up a National Environmental Strategic Management Plan that highlights our vulnerability to severe weather conditions such as droughts, cyclones and tsunamis, and to sea-level rise and misuse of the land. Sea-level rise is of particular concern because it could severely affect our only source of fresh water, the underground water lens. Mitigating options would be very expensive for a small island nation such as ours, but the Mitigation and Options group is looking at approaches that are applicable to our situation. Adapting to new ways in order to cope with climatic changes may prove to be difficult for many of our people.

The Environmental group has found that our very thin, porous and infertile soil is vulnerable to prolonged dry spells. Our fragile ecosystem is also vulnerable to major climatic changes, which will definitely affect our way of life. Some of our basic traditional wild staple foods - on which we usually rely during long dry spells - are not as abundant as they were 20 years ago. This cannot be due to overharvesting because our population is decreasing. These obvious changes to our habitat were pointed out by elders at village meetings and are causing great concern amongst our people. They often ask whether they are a sign that the world is coming to an end and that the Messiah is coming.

The Capacity Building group has highlighted the need for our nation to build up our resources in terms of expert personnel. Very few of our people are academically trained, though they have built up local knowledge over the years. The Government has indicated that whatever this group proposes should be incorporated into the National Action Plan now being prepared. The Vulnerability and Impact Assessment and Adaptation group is also working hard to try and fulfil its specific tasks.

Global Environment Facility (GEF) funds, provided through UNEP, permitted us to start our climate change enabling activities in preparation for our first national communication. They are well under way and we hope to complete them in December next year.

Niue urges all countries - especially developed ones whose greenhouse gas emissions are huge - to work together to reduce emissions to a more manageable level in the near future. Public awareness is the key. The more people at all levels worldwide become aware of the problem, the easier it will be to convince them to start changing their habits and start protecting our climate. This will be especially so if they are made aware that the magnitude of problems that could occur as a result of our ignorance is of devastating proportions.

The Honorable Minister Terry Donald Coe is Minister in Charge of Telecoms, Meteorology, the Electrical Power Corporation, the Public Works Department, Administration and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in the Government of Niue.

Enabling Activities

The First Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to help developing countries build their national capacities to respond better to climate change. It also asked the GEF to provide funding for these efforts: measures such as planning and capacity-building, including institutional strengthening, training, research and education.

The GEF's Enabling Activity Programme is now four years old. About 200 projects are under way or have already been implemented by the GEF and its implementing agencies (UNEP, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank) and bilateral programmes. Most developing countries have been covered and more than $10 million has been committed.

Under the Convention on Climate Change, even developing countries have to submit a national inventory of sources and sinks of greenhouse gases, and of programmes to reduce the negative impacts of climate change. This has to be submitted within three years of the date the Convention enters into force in that country, or of the time financial resources are made available from the GEF (least developed countries are exempted from this time limit).

These 'national communications' must include descriptions of programmes to address climate change and its adverse impacts, measures for abatement and enhancing sinks for greenhouse gases, policy options for monitoring systems and for strategies for responding to the impact of climate change, and policy frameworks for implementing adaptation measures and response strategies.

UNEP has been active in this area since before the Convention was signed in June 1992. It undertook the very first GEF project in enabling activities in 1991, now completed but involving Costa Rica, the Gambia, Mexico, Morocco, Poland, Senegal, Venezuela, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania with a grant of $4.5 million. In 1994, two more UNEP projects on enabling activities received GEF funding: a $2 million project involving Antigua and Barbuda, Cameroon, Estonia and Pakistan, also complete; and a $3 million project involving Argentina, Ecuador, Estonia, Hungary, Indonesia, Mauritius, Senegal and Viet Nam, which is currently being implemented.

Since May 1996, UNEP has helped a number of developing countries access GEF funds for preparing their initial national communications. Fifteen project proposals had been approved in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean region by 15 August 1998 and UNEP is helping another nine countries prepare project proposals.

Niue is one of the projects funded by the GEF and assisted by UNEP.

Ravi Sharma, Task Manager, GEF Climate Change Enabling Activities, UNEP.

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Small Islands 1999
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom: Averting catastrophe (Oceans) 1998
Cedric Schuster: Tradition matters (Oceans) 1998
Michael H. Glantz: Current events (Climate Change) 1997
Neroni Slade: Scaffolding or scaffold? (Climate Change) 1997

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