Making nature part of the solution
OpEd from Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands, Dr Lachlan Strahan
Published in the Solomon Star and Island Sun newspapers
A recent short-break in Western Province promoted me to reflect on my appreciation for Solomon Islands’ natural environment – the coral reefs, the tropical forests with their trees of grandeur, the mangroves and river systems, the volcanos and mountains that I have passed by in my travels to all nine provinces.
I have also seen some of those landscapes eaten away by the rising sea level – the most visible sign of changing climate in the eastern Pacific. As the people of Makira well know, a graveyard of centuries old banyan trees lines the coastline.
I’ve seen the impact of cyclones and landslides, a natural consequence of Solomon Islands’ equatorial location and position on the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, which ranks it second in the world for disaster risk. During the century between 1897 and 1997, there were 15 tsunamis caused by earthquakes – one every six years. In the 16 years since, there have already been five – one every three years. Back home, the east coast of Australia has seen the worst floods since the last major flooding event – only 11 years ago.
I lived though Cyclone Harold in April 2020, the first time I had experienced a tropical cyclone. Even at cyclone level one or two, Harold was unnerving.
Extreme weather events have increased in number and strength around the world. The consequences are devastating, particularly for countries with high levels of poverty and poor infrastructure. Economic impacts from extreme climate and geological hazards are substantial. The Australia Pacific Climate Partnership (APCP) estimates the current total average annual economic losses from natural disasters in Solomon Islands to be USD79 million, representing 8.69 percent of GDP.
On its first full day in Parliament in July, the new Australian Government introduced a Bill to legislate a 2030 43 percent carbon emissions reduction target. The Bill was passed by the Parliament on 8 September, marking a milestone for my country. The next step is to deliver.
From any crisis, creativity and innovation emerge. We can’t ignore the important function that nature plays in our very existence. There is a growing movement towards ‘nature-based solutions’; a concept of designing with nature rather than designing to control nature. Nature-based solutions are central to the successful greening of infrastructure and cities (such as the Egyptian town of Sharm El-Sheikh, host of the 27th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in November 2022).
The Australian Government’s commitment to climate change extends to our Pacific family and nature-based practices are already helping to mitigate climate change in our region, including through the restoration of critical ecosystems such as mangroves, and forest protection, including wildfire management.
The APCP Guideline on Resilient Infrastructure outlines examples of nature-based solutions in buildings such as recycling, wastewater recycling systems, reflective paint, ventilation, shading, passive climate control design and renewable energy. Local materials that require less transport can reduce carbon emissions, as can technologies and materials with lower embedded greenhouse gas emissions.
Guidelines like this have been translated into building codes all around the Pacific that are more practical for the local context. Solomon Islands’ new draft National Building Code provides helpful guidance on how to design and construct climate and disaster resilient buildings.
Infrastructure delivered by the Australian-funded Solomon Islands Infrastructure Program (SIIP) will be green, not grey. SIIP’s Climate Change and Disaster Resilience Strategy explains how SIIP will support the Solomon Islands Government to plan, deliver and maintain infrastructure that is resilient to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters.
Recently myself and my Steering Committee co-chair Dr Jimmie Rodgers announced our decision to provide SBD56 million from SIIP for Solomon Water to establish a town water supply system in Gizo. The township has been without a functional water supply system for many years, with residents relying on intermittent rainfall and boreholes for water. Rainwater harvesting is not reliable during periods of drought. A reliable groundwater supply system for Gizo will not only improve health standards, it will boost economic activities like tourism.
SIIP and Solomon Water will undertake an assessment as part of the design of the Gizo Water Supply Project to consider groundwater sustainability and performance under future climatic scenarios. Nature-based technologies for managing the ground water source will be considered, and protection of the ecosystem and surrounding forests will be paramount.
Solomon Islanders deserve quality infrastructure that lasts to keep people connected and safe in the face of rising sea levels and natural disasters. Infrastructure can help communities adapt as the climate changes.
Technical assistance and financing for climate adaption or mitigation is available to Solomon Islands through SIIP, or any of our regional initiatives – the Australian Pacific Climate Partnership, Australian Climate Finance Partnership, Indo-Pacific Carbon Offset Scheme, Pacific Regional Infrastructure Facility and the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific.
We are in this together.