There is not a country in the world that does not feel the effects of climate change.
Some regions and nations, however, are more impacted than others. The Solomon Islands, a country made up of hundreds of islands off the north-east of Australia, is among the most vulnerable.
Cyclones, flash flooding, droughts and some of the highest rates of sea level rise globally are an increasingly frequent occurrence for the nation's population of 680,000. The impact of these unforgiving environmental threats continues to obstruct the progression of social, economic and infrastructural development and affect the nation’s water, agriculture and health sectors.
Rather than wilt in the face of these climate emergencies, the island paradise is adapting — moving entire communities, local food gardens and even buried turtle eggs onto higher, safer grounds.
Below, we explore the history and unique impacts of climate change on the Solomon Islands and examine how organisations — including those funded by Australian aid — are helping some of the most vulnerable individuals in the world adapt.
History of Climate Change in the Solomon Islands
Over the past two decades, sea levels in the Solomon Islands have risen over 15 centimetres.
The unprecedented rise has resulted in the erosion and loss of critical landmass across many of the nation's reef islands and atolls, with five disappearing completely, according to a 2016 study published in Environmental Research Letters.
Renowned marine ecologist Simon Albert said of the 33 islands he has studied since 1947, a third have either partially sunk or disappeared entirely.
“These are permanent islands that have been on these reef platforms for at least the last few hundred years,” he said, according to the Solomon Times. “The rates of change we've seen over the last 20 years are unprecedented.”
Key Challenges Inhibiting Climate Resilience in the Solomon Islands
Some of the key unique challenges the country is facing in trying to manage and adapt to climate change include limited access to climate finance opportunities — like the availability of new jobs created from a shift to a low-carbon economy — for women, youth and marginalised communities.
According to Dylan Quinnell — the senior media coordinator for climate change, refugee issues and inequality at Oxfam Australia — these same populations similarly are not fully included in climate change decision making.
"Government, non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations (CSOs) work in silos on climate change adaptation implementation; there is no coordination and collaboration,” Quinnell told Global Citizen, before highlighting other vital challenges. “Overall, there is also limited engagement from the private sector and limited human resources within government departments to address climate issues. We need better coordination of missions and better reporting back to communities.”
History of Australia's Aid Influence
At the 2016 Pacific Islands Forum, then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled a climate change and resilience support package to the Pacific of $300 million AUD over four years. This sits alongside the $122.3 million in international aid Australia spent directly in the Solomon Islands in 2019.
"To take action on climate change, Australia's focus is on climate research and information, building resilience to climate change and disasters and increasing country capacity to respond to disaster events,” Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) writes on its website. “This support aligns with the Framework for Regional Development in the Pacific, endorsed by Pacific Island Forum leaders, which outlines an integrated approach to addressing climate change and disaster resilience.”
Australian aid-funded CSOs in the Solomon Islands specifically work to support community awareness and advocacy programs, food security, community resilience, the installation of small infrastructures like water tanks and overall training and research.
One particular program is the Solomon Islands Climate Action Network (SICAN).
Launched in 2019 as part of DFAT’s Australia Pacific Climate Partnership, SICAN is implemented by Oxfam and consists of 15 member organisations, including faith-based organisations, the private sector and non-government organisations.
"SICAN is currently focused on networking and collaboration, influencing and campaigning, information sharing, policy dialogue and partnerships,” Quinnell explained. “Since 2019, SICAN has been involved in no plastic bag campaigns, global climate strikes, organised training, integrated vulnerability assessments and monthly meetings and learnings.”
Quinnell added: “SICAN came about because it was clear there are existing gaps that need to be addressed such as climate finance tracking, climate injustice and limited knowledge of climate change issues disseminated to communities. CSOs were doing pockets of climate change activities, but previously lacked the collaborative support to push things or be represented in the national space.”
Why Continuing to Give Australian Aid Is Important
Australia's overall aid contribution to the Solomon Islands for 2019 is down $23.9 million from the year before.
According to Quinnell, it is vital countries like Australia continue to increase aid in real terms and maintain funding for programs that work to support the Solomon Islands in their efforts to manage and adapt to climate change.
"I’d like to see the Solomon Islands government track the distribution of climate change financing in communities and include CSOs and the private sector in regional and international climate change meetings,” he told Global Citizen. “It is also important the government includes people with disabilities, faith-based organisations, women and youth groups in national annual climate change roundtables. Provincial governments also need to develop legislation to align national budget planning and resourcing.”
Quinnell says there are several ways Australian aid can step up and support the Solomon Islands government.
"When it comes to tracking funds, Australian aid can support by funding a feasibility study on climate financing. For more inclusive meetings, Australian aid can support the funding of spaces for various personnel to attend and fund roundtable dialogue,” he added. “To support provincial governments, Australia should fund and implement a training project through the Solomon Islands’s ministry of provincial government and institutional strengthening.”
For years, Pacific nations have lamented Australia for its approach to reducing emissions and meeting its climate change commitments. Last year, Pacific leaders also revealed Australia undermined a consensus on a climate change communique at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu by insisting on watered-down climate language in the final statement.
During the same forum, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a new pledge that “highlights Australia’s commitment to not just meeting our emissions reduction obligations at home but supporting our neighbours and friends.”
Morrison said $500 million would be provided to the Pacific over five years from 2020 in the form of a climate change and oceans package — intended to help Pacific nations “invest in renewable energy and climate and disaster resilience.”
"The $500 million we’re investing for the Pacific’s renewable energy and its climate change and disaster resilience builds on the $300 million for 2016-2020,” Morrison said in a media release. “Australia is doing our part to cut global emissions and our Climate Solutions Package sets out to the last tonne how we will meet our 2030 target that will see us halve emissions per person and reduce the emissions intensity of our economy by two-thirds.”