“Tell us a number so we can start planning."
Dr Seona Meharg says this is the most common response she receives in the Pacific. Seona is one of our climate scientists and is speaking with Pacific communities about the challenge of rising sea levels and temperature extremes.
"We are working with communities who are very aware that climate change is real and happening," Seona says.
Pacific nations are bearing the brunt of the extreme impacts of climate change. Many villages and communities on lower-lying coastlines, like Papua New Guinea and Fiji, are planning for relocation, or have already done so.
when it comes to prioritising community actions, the possibility of future sea-level rise is the biggest issue. There are other disruptors that are impacting communities. Their ability to generate incomes, for a start. The cost of everyday living is rising. Climate impacts to sectors such as fisheries are adding further pressure.
Responding to these challenges requires quick and coordinated decision making. This is particularly the case in the Pacific region because of the challenges that climate change poses to Small Island Developing States.
Cascading impacts in the Pacific
One of the vehicles to climate decision-making in the region is through the Pacific Climate Change Centre (PCCC). This initiative is hosted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). The PCCC has been delivering work under their four key functions of knowledge brokerage, science to services, capacity building, and innovation, since 2018.
We have been involved with the PCCC since it was first established. Seona has been closely involved in a project that aims to develop products and capacity building. She's working in the area of knowledge brokering.
A priority for the PCCC in knowledge brokering is helping communities manage the cascading impacts of climate change. Coastal inundation events (the intrusion of salt water via wave surges) don’t just flood buildings and speed up coastal erosion. They carry salt water inland, which can threaten freshwater drinking supply.
Communities are also working to conserve increasingly degraded ecosystems in the face of rising temperatures on land and sea. That’s where declines in species populations, or changes in distribution, can affect livelihoods and food security.
There’s also the issue of how climate change is going to impact agricultural practices – for example, how changes in average temperatures will impact what crops and grains farmers can grow, and at what time of the year. When you combine warming temperatures with water contamination you can also expect an increase in the number of water-borne and vector-borne plant and animal diseases.
Climate knowledge brokers: agents of change
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underscored that system-wide adaptation is needed from governments and institutions to deal with these complex, interconnected and changing risks. The PCCC worked to translate information from the most recent IPCC reports into local languages.
There is no shortage of climate change information and model projections available. The more complex challenge is how to translate this climate information into practical outcomes for communities. And how to do it quickly.
CSIRO researcher Michaela Cosijn and Seona recently returned from a trip to Fiji. They spent a week working to build capacity of knowledge brokers from across the Pacific who are working to negotiate climate adaptation outcomes for their communities, organisations and governments.
Michaela has worked across Africa and the Asia Pacific region for the last 25 years supporting capacity building of communities, NGOs and government to adapt to climate change. Seona has worked in Australia and the Asia Pacific region for 15 years on climate adaptation.
Understanding the role of the knowledge broker
Over the last few decades, the job of the change agent, or knowledge broker has become a lot more prominent. In climate science, knowledge brokers have the important job of bridging the ‘knowledge gap’ as the intermediary between the information, the decision-maker or government, and generations of community knowledge. Bridging this gap lays the groundwork to start co-creating solutions and enabling action.
With the Pacific and Australia already experiencing the impacts of climate change, the role of the knowledge broker in today’s context is broad and complex. Particularly in the area of climate adaptation, where it is well understood that the basic transfer of knowledge is just not enough.
"Simply bringing climate information doesn’t give people the capacity to use it. It’s about how you broker relationships as well as knowledge across levels and networks to get decisions implemented," Seona says.
Training knowledge brokers in Pacific communities
We helped deliver and facilitate the four-day workshop held in Suva, Fiji’s capital. The workshop formed off the back of a partnership between us, the PCCC and another organisation, called the Australian Pacific Climate Alumni Network (APCAN). It was themed around training-the-trainer, with participants travelling from all over the Pacific, including Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Kiribati.
The next generation of Pacific knowledge brokers
Ofa Ma’asi-Kaisamy is a Manager at the PCCC.
"Decision-makers in the Pacific are calling for a more coordinated approach to information and knowledge sharing," Ofa says.
"Climate information needs to a useable format and can be actioned to make the best decisions at every level, from household-level choices through to national planning. We would like to see Pacific Islanders make informed decisions based on the information and knowledge gained and take the lead in making those decisions in their communities."
Michaela said the workshop experience was designed to help do exactly that.
"We designed the course to help build the capacity of local brokers to train others – as well as to use their enhanced skills to support decision-making," Michaela says.
As part of the course, Michaela and Seona walked the group through an example scenario to put their knowledge into practice. Using a fictitious setting, they were asked to respond to a scenario of a donor wanting to invest in eco-tourism. Agricultural and fisheries sectors were top considerations. By the end of the course, participants were able to understand a range of socio-economic and environmental drivers impacting the Pacific, including climate change, the governance systems, and the development of robust adaptation pathways.
The scientists and their colleagues spent countless hours developing resources tailored to climate change and adaptation in the Pacific region. Meeting face-to-face was a huge opportunity after two previous online workshops during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ultimate goal was for participants to make connections and start forming their own networks between and within their own countries in the Pacific.
Forging new connections
The PCCC is embarking on new programs to allow for knowledge sharing, networking, and partnership discussions to take place and strengthen relationships across the Pacific region.
The training provided by the Australian Pacific Climate Partnership is complementary to the key function of the PCCC. The PCCC's role is about strengthening the capacities of practitioners in the Pacific working on producing climate information and knowledge management to support all levels of governance and for different country contexts.
"We'll be running another workshop in the second half of 2023 with Pacific stakeholders,” Michaela says.
Seona is also staying in touch with the workshop participants to understand how the new knowledge brokers have developed their skills and used the workshop tools now and into the future. They’ve also created a community of practice where participants can stay in touch, share tips, and lessons learned.
“Ultimately, we want the people who came through the course to use this as a starting point for knowledge brokering, regardless of the sector they work in,” Michaela says.
“We want people to return home equipped with tools for making climate-related decisions across the board.”