Climate change mitigation and adaptation provide important opportunities for impact assessment (IA) practice. In late November 2019, the New Zealand Association for Impact Assessment (NZAIA), in partnership with the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), held a conference in Auckland under the title Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: assessing the impacts. The topic recognised the importance of climate change in the political arena in recent years in New Zealand and the wider Pacific region and the opportunity to apply IA to policy and planning. The conference had a significant Pacific island countries and territories (PICTs) component, which is the basis for this issue of NZAIA’s Impact Connector, produced with the support of SPREP for the Pacific impact assessment and climate change communities. A separate issue of Impact Connector presents a number of articles based on verbal and poster presentations mainly from a New Zealand perspective.
SPREP is an intergovernmental organisation established in 1993 and based in Apia, Samoa. Mandated to ensure the protection and sustainable development of the Pacific region's natural resources, the Secretariat serves 14 Pacific island countries and 7 territories. The organisation actively promotes the understanding of the connection between Pacific island people and their natural environment and the impact that these have on their sustenance and livelihoods. The current principal concern of SPREP’s work is climate change adaptation and resilience, driven by the 2017-2026 Strategic Plan developed with its Members who understand that to tackle the climate change challenge, leadership and coordination must work on many fronts of implementation for ecosystem and biodiversity protection, waste management and pollution control, using good environmental governance. Resilience to climate change relies on healthy environments and the use on impact assessments to properly assess and apply mitigation measures. As an accredited implementing agency SPREP also assists Members access the Global Climate Fund and apply impact assessment principles to their projects.
As of 2020, SPREP has also developed Guidelines for Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for use by its Members wishing to ensure that environmental and other sustainability aspects are considered effectively in policy, plan and program making. PICTs recognise the welfare of their people is intrinsically dependent on the natural, biophysical environment, as reflected in many environmental laws which include not only social but all aspects of human activity and culture as part of the environment when undertaking impact assessments. SPREP is also assisting PICTs to update their National Environmental Management Strategies to incorporate SEA for Climate Change adaptation and all national PPP.
Why this conference? What is important about the role of impact assessment in the context of climate change mitigation and adaptation?
There is a tendency for governments, and their science advisors, to adopt a risk assessment approach to climate change: to focus on hazards, such as coastal inundation exacerbated by climate change, and to think about the loss of lives, infrastructure, and livelihoods that may occur from such events. They tend to think in terms of physical measures to reduce the risk of those hazards occurring, or reducing the degree and extent of harm resulting from the events. They see risk assessment as the principal tool for this task.
Risk assessment certainly makes sense in the context of recognising the differential geographical and social effects of climate change across a country or region and identifying priorities for adaptation planning. However, the emphasis on addressing risks in adaptation planning is likely to promote the search for cost effective responses to specific physical impacts (e.g. inundation). It does not in itself encourage more integrated, strategic thinking about possible adaptation responses to the effects of climate change, and the wider implications of those responses for people, communities and the natural environment.
So the key purpose of the conference was to highlight the potential for unintended consequences of both mitigation measures and adaptation plans being overlooked without more explicit recognition of the need to test emerging ideas using impact assessment methods. Adaptation plans should be tested using strategic environmental assessment, and specific projects should be tested by environmental impact assessment including where appropriate, social, cultural, and health aspects as well as biophysical and ecological aspects. To stimulate to stimulate thinking and discussion we posed these broad questions:
do our current processes involve consideration of the wider, unintended consequences of mitigation and adaptation measures?
what might some of the important consequences be (both positive and negative)?
how can impact assessment methods contribute to sound decision-making about climate change mitigation and adaptation?
The articles in this issue of Impact Connector provide Pacific-oriented perspectives on these questions. They are also intended to stimulate thinking and discussion among decision-makers, policy analysts and planners involved with climate change responses, and of course the impact assessment community.
The first article draws on the keynote speech presented by the SPREP Director General Mr Kosi Latu, in which he paid particular attention to the need to improve the availability of environmental and social data, to inform impact assessments and subsequent decisions about climate change mitigation and adaptation.
This is followed by an overview (written by Richard Morgan and Greg Barbara, based on the presenters’ material) of the presentations from three SPREP-supported speakers: first, Mr Jorg Anson and Assistant Secretary Vanessa Fread use a case study from Federated States of Micronesia to explore the challenges of introducing SEA into Pacific decision-making processes; second, Ms Naomay Tor of Vanuatu reminds us of the critical importance of community involvement in impact assessment; and finally Director Soseala Tinilau discusses the potential for unintended impacts from coastal adaptation works, based on experiences in Tuvalu.
For low lying nations in the region, one response to sea level rise is to raise elevation through reclamation. Anthony Kubale outlines an impact assessment carried out to evaluate a potential new urban development in Kiribati, that would be located on 300 ha of reclaimed land in South Tarawa. The assessment was part of a wider engineering feasibility and land use planning exercise and examines the impacts on the natural environment, but also the range of possible social impacts.
The article by Dorothy Foliaki is based on, and extends, a poster she presented at the conference. She discusses the potential role of SEA in helping PICTs (and in her research case study, Tonga in particular) incorporate relevant SDGs into their national and sectoral policies and plans.
Coastal adaptation measures will be very important for all the island nations. Shaw Mead describes a project carried out on Tongatapu to assess the impact of particular coastal protection solutions on the coastal environment and coastal processes in tropical environments. This is part of a wider programme, the Global Climate Change Alliance: Pacific Small Island States (GCCA: PSIS) project, that was developed to support the governments of nine smaller Pacific Island states develop strategies to deal with the effects of climate change and sea level rise.
An important aspect of climate change in PICTs is the real possibility of people having to re-locate as local conditions make continued settlement unsustainable. Rajan Ghosh and Caroline Orchiston consider the extent to which this might already be happening across the Pacific, and what it is understood about potential social impacts on receiving communities, using New Zealand as an example.