Former Brighter Green intern Whitney Hoot is chronicling her experiences as a supervisor in a climate change adaptation program in Pohnpei, Micronesia, a small island developing nation at risk from rising sea levels and other effects of global warming. This is the third blog in a three-blog series.
I attended my first climate change conference’the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, held in Cochabamba, Bolivia’when I was interning at Brighter Green during my senior year of college. Now, almost two years later, I’ve attended several more and they’ve all been educational and exciting – in addition to being completely exhausting!
I spent last week at the Climate Change Adaptation Outreach and Planning Training, a weeklong workshop held on the island of Pohnpei, in the Federated States of Micronesia, hosted by Micronesia Conservation Trust (MCT) and the Pacific Islands Marine Protected Areas Community (PIMPAC). I certainly learned a lot, but after five days at the workshop I am more than ready for some quiet reflection. I met some incredibly passionate people, spoke my mind on climate change in the Pacific region, and practiced my Pohnpeian (which is shaky, at best). After spending the first two days at the workshop honing our outreach and awareness-raising skills, the group switched focus to the climate adaptation community management planning process, using the Local Early Action Plan (LEAP) model.
We divided into smaller groups of about 5-8 participants, each group representing a real community on Pohnpei. I was in the Depehk-Takiou group, a community located on a small island adjacent to the main island and connected by a man-made causeway. We were lucky to have one of the chiefs of the village in our group – he was instrumental to our planning process, as he has a great understanding of how this community functions and on which resources it depends. The LEAP planning process would normally take months of working closely with indigenous leaders and community members, but we rushed through it in three days, while attempting to make the simulated process as close to the actual as possible. The process involves six steps: first we get organized, then we raise community awareness, before assessing non-climate threats, followed by developing a local climate story and assessing vulnerability to climate change – lastly we finalize the LEAP. This is a resource management tool that takes climate change into account, on a local level – it is a qualitative vulnerability assessment based on descriptive information that is best used with small communities.
Before starting the planning process, LEAP planners gather local knowledge of the status (or rather, perceived status) of key social and natural resources, those that are deemed most vital to a community’s survival, and of the threats to these resources. In Depehk-Takiou, the surrounding coral reefs are a hugely important natural resource – they provide food for the people and habitats for fish and other marine life. While these reefs are technically ensconced within a Marine Protected Area (MPA), overfishing is a serious threat as there is a lack of enforcement and management. While going through the LEAP process, we learned that this deficiency is largely caused by a shortage of resources (Community Conservation Officers – who are charged with monitoring the MPA – do not get paid) and a lack of awareness of the importance of these resources. As a group, we created a huge flow chart that traced the path from the target resources to their threats, all the way back to the root causes of these threats (i.e. lack of resources). We then came up with actions that could be taken to mitigate these root causes, and hence the subsequent threats – what if we started providing stipends for the Community Conservation Officers, giving them at least enough to pay for their fuel? Or we might engage the community through outreach, teaching them about the great importance of the coral reefs.
In my opinion, the most important part of the LEAP – and certainly the most challenging part – is the A: the action. Acquiring knowledge and skills during a training is one thing, but translating those to action is the necessary next step. Although the training participants were happy to go home on Friday after a week of hard work, we are meeting next week to discuss how we will move forward – how we will make use of what we learned to better prepare the people of Pohnpei for the impacts of climate change.
Photo courtesy of Whitney Hoot