Fiji’s Response to Migration and Displacement in the Context of Climate Change and Natural Hazards

Climate change is an existential threat and will have significant implications on Pacific Islands despite the fact that the countries contribute the very least to global carbon emissions. It is one of the greatest threats to human security because it undermines livelihoods, compromises cultures and individual identity, increases migration and displacement of people, and disrupts the ability of states to provide the conditions necessary for human security (Adger et. al 2014). 

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 1.5° Celsius  Special Report, the rate of global mean sea-level rise will likely increase from 0.52 to 0.98 meters between 2080 and 2100. This increase will intensify pressure on human settlements in the Pacific and pose risks to livelihoods, water and food security, human health, and economic growth (IPCC 2018). This short paper explores international frameworks on climate change migration and displacement that have been developed for countries to adopt, and provides an outline of how Fiji, a Pacific Island country affected by climate change, has responded nationally to international and regional frameworks and guidelines on adaptation and human mobility in the context of climate change.

International Frameworks 

A significant number of international frameworks have been developed to regulate and guide migration and displacement in the context of conflict, persecution, war and other related factors. The frameworks govern the regulatory of internal and cross-border migrations and support the recognition of protection and human rights of refugees and stateless persons displaced by conflicts, wars, and economic factors. Similarly, policies that administer internally displaced people (IDP) predominantly focus on disaster risk reduction and management measures as well as the temporary relocation of communities. Many of these policies are guided by frameworks such as:

the 2015 Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, which aims to reduce risks and build resilience in communities and countries; 

the Guiding Principles of Internal Displacement that set to address the needs of internally displaced persons and ensure that they are protected; 

Populations at Risk of Disaster – A Resettlement Guide by the World Bank that informs states’ decisions and informs stakeholders on the application of preventative resettlement programs such as disaster risk reduction measures for protecting the lives and assets of people at risk or restoring their living conditions; and 

the Nansen Initiative Platform on Disaster Displacement, which supports the Nansen Initiative on human displacement by disasters and climate change across borders. 

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has also played an instrumental role in the development of mechanisms to combat climate change and support mitigation and adaptation actions. The ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, aimed at reducing global emissions, was significant for Small Island Developing States, especially Pacific Islands in adapting to the adverse impacts of climate change. In 2010, reference to adaptation measures such as climate change induced displacement, migration and planned relocation were first mentioned under the Cancun Agreement Framework.

In 2013, the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on Loss and Damage was established based on the Cancun Agreement to address loss and damage related to climate change for both extreme and slow onset events affecting migration and displacement, particularly in developing countries that are highly vulnerable to climate change (UNFCCC 2019). The WIM was supported by the Paris Agreement which was endorsed in 2015. The Paris Agreement is an environmental landmark that was adopted by many countries in 2015 to address the adverse impacts of climate change. Its main aim is to strengthen and accelerate actions to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to curb the increase of global temperature to 2° Celsius above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5° Celsius. 

The Paris Agreement also commits to combat climate change impacts, enhance adaptation actions through integrated and preventative approaches to address human mobility and displacement in the context of climate change, and to mainstream migration as an adaptation strategy into existing policies and guidelines (UNFCCC 2019). It also provides a pathway for developed nations to support developing states in the implementation of mitigation and adaptation actions. 

In 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in collaboration with Georgetown University and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), published a Toolbox on Planned Relocations to Protect People from Disasters and Environmental Change. The toolbox underlines operational guidelines to assist governments and stakeholders who may need to undertake planned relocation related to climate change and disasters (UNHCR et. al 2016). 

In the same year, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants was also adopted in recognition of the need to protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants regardless of their status. The Global Compact on Migration (GCM) was established as an outcome of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, based on the need for a holistic and comprehensive approach to human mobility and enhanced cooperation at local, national, regional, and international levels (IOM 2019). The GCM outlines measures that can assist and guide governments when addressing international migration in the context of climate change and environmental degradation, now and in the future. The Compact prioritises measures that enable people to adapt to both climate change and environmental changes experienced in their homes, and to reduce possibilities of migration in vulnerable locations. The measures also provide available and flexible alternative pathways for regular migration (IOM 2019).  

While some of these international frameworks allude to the critical concerns of climate change in Fiji, it is likely that with the escalating impacts and the subsequent lack of mitigation actions by developed countries, and the limited adaptive capacity of communities in Fiji, a significant number of populations may be forced to abandon their homes and relocate elsewhere for safety and improved livelihoods. As such, relocation will be a required adaptation measure for vulnerable communities in the country. Relocation may be complicated, lengthy and costly, and must be properly planned to minimise potential challenges and ensure the continuity of communities in their new destinations.  

Fiji’s Responses 

A Fijian girl walks in her village on flooded land in Fiji. On Feb 2016 Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston was the strongest tropical cyclone in Fiji in recorded history

Fiji lies in the Southwest of the Pacific Ocean and comprises of two major islands – Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Most of its islands are of volcanic origin and are predominantly mountainous, especially the two major islands with numerous small volcanic islands, low-lying atolls and elevated reefs. The country is largely dependent on natural resources, agriculture and tourism for its economy. However, as a small island nation, it is also highly vulnerable to climate change and natural hazards. The country is already experiencing prolonged droughts, frequent and increased precipitation and flooding in low-lying areas, loss of fertility in agricultural lands due to saltwater inundation, intensified tropical cyclones, and sea level rise and storm surges. National efforts in collaboration with international and regional organisations, institutions and churches have been placed on capacity building in communities across Fiji to address climate change impacts and build community resilience (SPREP et. al 2015). 

About 800 communities have been identified to be highly vulnerable to climate change and disasters and are in need of immediate relocation. A few of these communities have already been relocated while others are awaiting relocation. In 2014, the village of Vunidogoloa was the first ever to be relocated 2 kilometers inland as a result of sea level rise and increased coastal inundation. The relocation was jointly facilitated and supported by the government and the community (McNamara and Jacot des Combe 2015). In 2017, the people of Tukuraki were relocated to a safer location after being affected by a series of disasters that occurred since 2012 (SPC and BSRP 2017). In 2018, several households in Narikoso village, extremely vulnerable and affected by sea level, were relocated to the new village site that has been cleared for the community. The relocation was facilitated with assistance and funding from external donors (SPC 2016). With the need to relocate more communities in the future, planned relocation guidelines are essential to regulate and guide this process. 

In 2018, at the end of Fiji’s Presidency of COP 23, the country launched its ‘Planned Relocation Guidelines – A Framework to Undertake Climate Change Related Relocation’ (PRGs) – the first ever to be developed in the Pacific Islands. The Guidelines serve to demonstrate the commitment of Fiji’s government to meeting the requirements of international frameworks on human mobility in the context of climate change, and to respond effectively to the relocation needs of its people. The PRGs support Fiji’s commitment to recognise international frameworks and ensure that the guidelines are aligned to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Toolbox on Planned Relocations to Protect People from Disasters and Environmental Change, the Global Compact of Migration, and with Fiji’s climate change policies, including the National Development Plan, the National Adaptation Plan, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Policy and Fiji’s Nationally Determined Contribution (Government of Fiji 2018).

Fiji’s PRGs were built on strategies that aim to reduce the vulnerability of people and enhance resilience among its communities. The Guidelines provide step-by-step procedures that may be used by all actors to guide Planned Relocation processes caused by climate change and disasters in Fiji. The procedures of the PRGs are coordinated based on three main pillars – Decision to undertake relocation, Planning for a sustainable relocation, and Implementation of a relocation plan that aligns with all human rights and protection. The Guidelines also provide for complementary measures that include the sustainability of the plan, the physical process of the relocation, and the monitoring and evaluation of the relocation on a long-term basis. 

The three pillars are supported by five main principles – A Human-Centered Approach, A Livelihood-Based Approach, A Human Rights-Based Approach, A Preemptive Approach, and A Regional Approach. The Principles ensure that the values and rights of communities, households, and individuals affected by climate change and disasters are respected and protected in the process of planned relocation. The PRGs also constitute three primary processes, the PRE-Planned Relocation Process, the IN-Planned Relocation Process, and the POST-Planned Relocation Process, which clearly guide actors and inform decisions related to Planned Relocation in Fiji. However, Planned Relocation is the last option for Fiji, and will only be considered after all adaptation alternatives have been explored and exhausted. The government is also developing its Standard Operational Procedures (SOPs), which summarise the broader Guidelines into practical steps that may be translated, reproduced, and applied at local and national levels to guide any planned relocation in Fiji (Lund 2019). 

In June 2019, Fiji ratified Act 21, which was foundational to the establishment of the Adaptation Trust Fund for the Planned Relocation of communities in Fiji. The Act was renamed the ‘Climate Relocation of Communities Trust Fund’. The purpose of the Trust Fund is to fund and support the planned relocation of communities in Fiji that are severely affected by climate change and natural hazards. The Trust Fund also ensures that a clear funding system is in place that may be used to assist communities when relocation becomes necessary (Government of Fiji 2019). Fiji is currently also developing its Displacement Guidelines which will guide and assist the government and stakeholders in facilitating any form of displacement caused by climate change and natural hazards in the country. 

Conclusion 

The implementation of the Planned Relocation Guidelines, and the development of the Climate Relocation Adaptation Trust Fund and the Displacement Guidelines reflect Fiji’s commitment in enhancing climate change adaptation and resilience for its communities and people. The PRGs are essential in supporting effective actions on climate change adaptation in the context of climate change migration in Fiji. The Standard Operational Procedures will provide the government and stakeholders with guidance when implementing PRGs for any relocation in the country. The establishment of the Climate Relocation Trust Fund also underlines Fiji’s commitment to ensure that there is financial support to assist the relocation of vulnerable communities. With the development of the Displacement Guidelines, the country will also be equipped to minimise and address any form of displacement caused by climate change and natural hazards in Fiji. 

With Fiji leading in the development and implementation of planned relocation and displacement procedures in the Pacific region, what implications does this have for other Pacific Islands whose communities may be forced to relocate as a result of climate change in the future? Like Fiji, some of the countries have also taken the initiative to implement related policies. In 2018, Vanuatu developed its National Policy on Climate Change and Disaster Induced Displacement, which serves as a guide for the government and stakeholders to address the needs of all communities affected by displacement. But for countries like Tuvalu, relocation will be the final option after the country has explored and exhausted all adaptation options. Kiribati has focussed more internally on building the adaptive capacity of its people to combat climate change. The Marshall Islands have contested the notion of relocation for its people because it is considered detrimental to the existence of the Marshallese people. Planned relocation may not be an appropriate adaptation measure for all countries in the Pacific. For those countries for which it is an option (or rather necessity), it would be important to understand the context and scale of the relocation. If it is internally, then it could easily be managed and guided by internal relocation and displacement policies, but if it is external, then it presents a larger scale scenario for Pacific Islands who may be subject to this process. 

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Biography

Dr Tammy Tabe is an anthropologist who has worked widely in the Pacific Islands region, specifically in Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tuvalu and Kiribati. She currently works as a Lecturer at the University of the South Pacific. Her research interests

focus on ecosystem-based adaptation, gender inequality, Pacific Islands epistemologies, historical relocations, identity, diaspora, and climate change migration and displacement

Introduction

Analysis

Statements

Conclusion