Why our future relies on the health of our ocean

Photo credit: SPC/WTYSL

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) offered an opportunity for world leaders to act on urgent and meaningful commitments in reducing emissions and limiting global temperatures to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2050. Digital technologies and innovation play a critical role in achieving these commitments.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been promoting the need to transfer innovative capacities from developed to developing countries to enhance climate technologies. In Oceania, advancing technologies is particularly relevant as Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) are remote and geographically dispersed, making it difficult to deploy comprehensive activities and actions on climate change.

Despite this challenge, PICTs are becoming hubs of innovation, supported by regional institutions, in the deployment of innovative tools to enhance climate action. Through increased access to funding, expertise and technical support, they can better harness the opportunities to build climate-proof infrastructure resilient to multiple natural hazards and the increasing impacts of climate change.

In the Pacific, 45% of people lack access to safe drinking water, and the situation is expected to worsen due to climate change. To help some of its members address this challenge, the Pacific Community (SPC) has been using airborne geophysics to identify new water resources in French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Tuvalu. Airborne geophysics uses electromagnetic resistivity surveys on the ground or by helicopter to identify groundwater resources. These techniques also specify the location of saltwater through 2D and 3D representations of the ground and subsurface. In Tuvalu, this mapping technology confirmed traditional knowledge of underground freshwater. 

Satellite-based surveillance systems have also proven essential for measuring changes affecting the environment. Over the last few decades, the Pacific region has faced rising sea temperatures, and devastating storms and floods have become more frequent. To help communities better adapt to these challenges, SPC launched the Pacific Ocean Portal, a user-friendly platform which allows instant visualisation of historical, real-time and predictive ocean data. 15 PICTs are using the platform daily, and this number is expected to grow as the technology develops.

Upon launch, Digital Earth Pacific will be fundamental digital infrastructure that supports the development of an operational earth observation system that includes decades of freely available data. Currently under development, this tool will use artificial intelligence and immense processing power in the cloud to access, analyze and model data from multiple sources. Hence, every nation in the Pacific will have access to accurate data to better understand the changes to Pacific environments and people.

In the agriculture sector, climate smart agriculture plans have been deployed in the region. One recent success was the development of the Nauru Climate Smart Agriculture Plan (NaCSAP): 2021–2025 for resilient food production in Nauru. The country, having been mined for phosphate for years, is now 80% uninhabitable. The government has identified sustainable agriculture development as a priority sector to enhance food and nutrition security. Nauru is paving the way towards an important increase in crop productivity by 2025, through improved management techniques, the diversification of crop systems, the introduction of resilient genetic resources (some of which are provided by SPC’s Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees [CePaCT]), soil and water management technologies and resilient livestock.

These are just a few of the many innovations currently underway at SPC to help the region address climate change. SPC, along with its partners, will continue to support the institutions that oversee these innovations, ensuring they are inclusive and managed with the highest standards of governance.

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Dr Stuart Minchin

Director-General (Noumea)

Before he joined the Pacific Community (SPC) on 23 January 2020, Dr Minchin previously served as Chief of the Environmental Geoscience Division of Geoscience Australia, a centre of expertise in the Australian Government for environmental earth science issues and the custodian of national environmental geoscience data, information and knowledge. He has represented Australia in key international forums and has been the Principal Delegate to both the UN Global Geospatial Information Management Group of Experts (UNGGIM) and the Intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO).