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A Letter from Fiji

Caitlin Smith, an Associate with the World Resources Institute’s Sustainable Finance Center, outlines what the world can learn from Fiji’s National Climate Finance Strategy.

On a clear day, Soliyaga, a centuries-old Fijian village on Beqa Island, captivates with breathtaking beauty. The village’s 26 houses are nestled into several acres of flat land between Beqa’s mountainous interior and a deep bay. But this idyllic calm belies the village’s increasingly cloudy future.

Residents have long relied on the land and ocean to sustain their livelihoods. Beqa’s interior is abundantly fertile, enabling villagers to cultivate staples of the Fijian diet, such as cassava, dalo, coconuts and pineapple. They sell them to nearby resorts or in the Navua and Suva markets, an hour away by boat. From the bay, villagers collect fish, crabs, prawns and other marine animals.

Soliyaga’s setting has always left it vulnerable to weather and climate events. Tropical rains can cascade down the mountains and inundate the village. At high tide, Soliyaga has no visible beach, making it vulnerable to storm surge. Historically, Soliyaga would experience a handful of flooding or cyclone events every couple of years — not ideal, but manageable.

In recent years, though, such flood events have become more frequent and intense. Inland flooding or storm surge occur multiple times a year, damaging and destroying houses. The sea has noticeably risen and threatens the village’s water supply and soil. Fishing spots, once plentiful, have become more unpredictable as warmer, more acidic waters disrupt the marine ecosystem.

Villagers have tried to adapt. They built canals to divert inland floodwaters around the outside of the village, as well as a sea wall. But the canals still allow seawater to flow into the village, and the sea wall is already cracking.

Soliyaga is hardly alone in these challenges: Villages just like it throughout Fiji and other island nations face similar escalating threats from climate change. But unlike many other countries, Fiji has a blueprint for protecting vulnerable communities like Soliyaga.

Climate finance for vulnerable communities

Almost every country in the world has a policy or plan for climate action. Not all of them actually match the severity of the problem. Fewer still offer a plan for financing the actions necessary for a low-carbon, climate-resilient future.

This is where Fiji stands out. As part of its ongoing partnership with the Fijian Climate Change and International Cooperation Division (CCICD), WRI’s Finance Center helped develop a National Climate Finance Strategy for Fiji. The strategy pinpoints projects best suited to protect the country’s at-risk communities.

Unlike most other countries’ climate-related plans, the strategy is based on an analysis of how much money the country will need to meet its climate goals, which projects are already receiving financial support, and which climate priorities are underfunded. It was created through widespread consultation with nearly all of Fiji’s government ministries and development partners.

The strategy is aligned with Fiji’s recently-enacted Climate Change Act, which declares a climate emergency and commits the country to decarbonise by 2050. The strategy also provides a detailed roadmap in Fiji’s negotiations with climate finance providers like the Green Climate Fund, a multi-billion fund that channels climate finance from developed nations to developing ones. Before they’ll agree to finance a project, many funders appreciate a consultative-based strategy that demonstrates country ownership over climate priorities. The depth and breadth of Fiji’s National Climate Finance Strategy is designed to satisfy this need and give the Fijian government additional leverage in conversations with development partners.

A look at Fiji’s National Climate Finance Strategy

More than 40% of Fiji’s climate spending comes from international funders; the rest is from the Fijian government. The National Climate Finance Strategy identifies 12 economic sectors in need of adaptation and decarbonisation, from agriculture to water and sanitation.

A Blueprint for Building Resilience in Fiji:

For example, one project included in the strategy is the early-warning One Pacific Programme. This programme would gather relevant climate data, develop multi-hazard monitoring, prediction and projection services, and expand the real-time communication systems of the 14 Pacific Island nations. Sophisticated early-warning systems can provide more targeted and actionable warnings to remote villages like Soliyaga – a decisive difference that gives residents time to secure their belongings and retreat to safety before impending disasters reach the shore. The Fijian government is now working with several technical partners and their regional counterparts to finalise the project and secure funding.

One of the top priorities in the strategy’s blue economy sector is expanding the Ministry of Waterways’ coastal erosion protection works programme, which protects coastal Fijian villages against sea level rise, storm surges and other climate-related impacts. The ministry’s priority under the programme is to build nature-based seawalls, which combine mangroves, boulders from the villages, and vetiver grass to shelter coastal communities and prevent coastal erosion or relocation. The ministry received requests for assistance from at least 121 communities for these seawalls – a number that grows monthly – but lacks funding to build most of them.

For some villages, however, relocation may be unavoidable. The Fijian government has identified 42 communities to be assessed for relocation. The strategy includes calls for investments to solidify and scale transparent and inclusive relocation efforts where necessary and to prioritise urgent adaptation investments to delay relocation where possible. To solidify and scale necessary relocation efforts, the strategy focuses on expanding Fiji’s Climate Relocation of Communities Trust Fund, which was launched in 2019 to protect vulnerable communities from growing climate impacts.

The strategy also identifies ways to build climate resilience in the health sector. They include expanding the capacity of the Fijian Ministry of Health to diagnose and treat climate-related diseases and health issues, particularly in rural and maritime communities, and upgrading existing healthcare infrastructure so it can withstand category-five cyclones and other severe weather.

The strategy explicitly calls on projects to incorporate women and other marginalised populations into investment planning, as well as collect disaggregated data on how these groups are affected by project activities.

Reducing Fiji’s Emissions:

In addition to resilience, the strategy also covers mitigation.

For example, the strategy envisions expanded solar and wind generation, including a mix of utility-scale wind and solar generation for the main island, Viti Levu, as well as mini-grids for communities like Soliyaga on Fiji’s outer islands. The next step to a low-carbon, resilient grid, as detailed in the strategy, would be to introduce and scale lithium-ion batteries for electricity storage.

The strategy also targets electrifying Fiji’s transportation options. It offers concept notes to electrify the public bus system and government vehicle fleet, to process and recycle retired combustion engines, and to install charging infrastructure to support private electric vehicle use.

The Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership Programme aims to decarbonise shipping in Fiji and the Marshall Islands, with potential support from other Pacific Islands. This would include piloting and scaling electric ships and expanding port infrastructure to support them. In addition to reducing emissions, decarbonised shipping would drastically reduce diesel pollution in the ocean, improve marine ecosystem health, and reduce villagers’ costs of transporting fish and agricultural products to market.

Connecting climate finance to the projects that need it most

In short, the National Climate Finance Strategy lays out an economy-wide blueprint for how Fiji can build a net-zero, climate-resilient economy and ensure a secure future for villages like Soliyaga.

Now comes the next and most crucial step in ensuring the strategy generates impact: funding the projects it identifies.

To that end, Fiji has already successfully submitted its climate finance strategy to the Green Climate Fund. Going forward, projects in Fiji seeking GCF funding will need to demonstrate alignment with the strategy. Fiji’s Climate Change and International Cooperation Division (CCICD) is using the strategy to decide which concept notes to further develop and which to emphasise in conversations with donors. Additionally, as it develops funding proposals, CCICD staff are using the strategy as both inspiration for ideas and as evidence that the projects are consistent with Fiji’s climate goals.

Lessons for other countries

Fiji’s National Climate Finance Strategy also offers three lessons for other countries looking to similarly programme their climate finance.

First, tailor the strategy to complement existing climate plans, implement existing legislation, and meet the needs of the target audience. Fiji’s National Climate Finance Strategy builds off, fills in the gaps, and streamlines the existing batch of strategies and priorities, many of which were developed through their own consultative processes and are valued by both the Fijian government and Fiji’s development partners. It also fulfils a requirement from Fiji’s Climate Change Act that the government develop a national climate finance strategy.

Second, tie higher-level strategies as closely as possible to specific actions; don’t be generic. Fiji’s strategy includes many of the common high-level climate goals, such as “decarbonise transport,” “achieve 100% renewable energy generation,” or “rehabilitate vital ecosystems,” and then pinpoints specific actions, projects, and investments that need to be made to achieve these goals. In doing so, the strategy explains both where Fiji is trying to go and how, specifically, it can get there.

Third, be intentional about including priorities on social equity, human health and climate relocation. Each of these topics is at the forefront of where climate impacts pose the greatest risks to vulnerable communities and people, but they are among the least funded climate priorities.

With a detailed climate finance plan like Fiji’s, countries can help solve the crux of the climate adaptation challenge: getting resources to the communities most threatened by climate change and least equipped to deal with its impacts.

How WRI helped create Fiji’s first National Climate Finance Strategy

To create Fiji’s National Climate Finance Strategy (NCFS), we mapped all of the country’s identified climate-related policies, interventions, targets and projects to pinpoint its climate finance needs. We also consulted more than 50 organizations active in Fiji. The result is detailed prioritization of climate finance needs across 12 sectors.

Drawing from Fiji’s National Development Plan (NDP), Climate Vulnerability Assessment (CVA), National Adaptation Plan (NAP), Low Emissions Development Strategy (LEDS), Fiji Climate Finance Snapshot, line ministries’ strategic plans, NDC Investment Plans, and stakeholder consultations, we then designated three key policy priorities for each sector, as well as three interventions, targets, and/or projects that, if implemented, would help achieve each policy.

The NCFS also includes concept notes for 24 urgent mitigation and adaptation projects that could be funded by the Green Climate Fund, the Fijian Ministry of Economy’s Climate Change and International Cooperation Division, or other development partners.

This article was originally published here on WRI.org and was co-authored by Prashant Chandra, a climate finance associate. 

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