Social dimensions of climate change in Solomon Islands

Source(s): World Bank, the

Considering the social dimensions of climate change is essential to building resilience and developing effective policy and programs within Solomon Islands and throughout the Pacific region. This new World Bank research shares local perspectives in Solomon Islands that offer valuable insights on community-based climate adaptation, socials resilience, and climate-driven migration.

Solomon Islands, like many Pacific countries, is vulnerable to both sudden climate shocks like tropical cyclones and flooding, but also more gradual climate-driven changes like sea level rise and saltwater intrusion. These environmental changes often combine with other factors like poverty and health, which can exacerbate inequality, affect peoples’ livelihoods, and drive temporary displacement as well as migration and planned relocation. Cyclones, flash floods, and other weather-related events have already forced about 26,000 people within Solomon Islands to relocate since 2008 [1].

These two research papers capture the local experiences of climate resilience, adaptation, and migration in Solomon Islands. The papers are the first guidance notes in the Bank’s Social Dimensions of Climate Change: Pacific Series. Researchers collected both qualitative and quantitative data from diverse populations within urban, rural, and remote atoll communities across Solomon Islands.

One key takeaway is that social capital, traditional leadership and kinship networks, and communities’ connections to their ancestral lands play a crucial role in successful adaptation efforts and can help mitigate some of the risks of climate-driven migration.

Local insights into social resilience and climate change in Solomon Islands

A majority of the research participants were highly aware of climate change and have experienced multiple climate-related events in the past five years. Many communities are having to cope with repeated, worsening environmental events, which is making it harder to adapt. Isaac, a community leader in Karaina, a research site in the Solomons capital, Honiara, believes these changes will continue to intensify:

“Karaina community had experienced rapidly rising water levels which contribute great impact on the lives of dwellers on the coastal seashore of Karaina, washing away part of the land on the coast…This event also warned us that this event is continuous therefore we have to adapt and prepare for what’s coming ahead since we are living on coastal areas that are prone to disasters like this,” said Isaac.

People are using both traditional and modern technologies to adapt to environmental changes. For instance, the method of drying breadfruit, or nambo, to save in case of drought or cyclone, is an effective traditional method used by families in the remote atoll community of Tuwo. People are also using infrastructure like rainwater harvesting tanks or seawalls to adapt where sea levels are encroaching on property or infiltrating drinking water sources.

In all of the field sites, people wanted to move away from the most vulnerable areas but faced land constraints and structural barriers. People also believe that education is key to climate adaptation, yet most informants had poor access to schooling and other essential services. 

For externally-funded adaptation efforts, local knowledge and participatory planning are needed for successful outcomes. Many people felt that programs could be more effective if they were more connected to local or household-level actions, and did more to address structural inequities. However, researchers also emphasized the importance of an integrated approach at the local, provincial, and national level to support local leadership in building resilience, so that communities have adequate resources and access to basic services. 

Mitigating risks related toclimate or disaster-related migration

The second paper in the series, Local Responses to Climate Change and Disaster-Related Migration in Solomon Islands, looked more closely at migration. Climate change is one of many factors driving displacement and migration. People also move for other reasons, such as better education or employment opportunities. Researchers found that the environmental changes linked to climate change exacerbate existing inequities or vulnerabilities within communities, which can accelerate migration or displacement. 

In places where climate impacts are happening, people are already moving. Eighty-three percent of people surveyed in the urban research site near Honiara identified as migrants. Forty-six percent of people surveyed in the rural villages of Langalanga self-identified as migrants, partly because their communities had already moved from older settlements in the lagoon to the mainland, following severe cyclones in the 1960s and 1970s. 

For those who have had to relocate, people who did so through their family network experienced better outcomes than others. Their social capital and networks played an important role in navigating mobility options for communities negatively impacted by climate change. However, even when people planned to relocate using their social or family networks, limited access to land is a significant barrier that can create conflicts.

Leaving one’s homeland also has the potential to result in significant intangible losses in communities whose identity is linked to their ancestral land. People want to return to and maintain connections to their homelands. 

Key findings

People throughout Solomon Islands are adapting to intensifying climate impacts. Effective support efforts must acknowledge the ways local communities are already adapting and work with local leadership to build the capacity of communities so that they can make their own decisions in terms of adaptation and migration. Additionally, external support should be more connected to local knowledge and traditional leadership and do more to address structural inequities. 

Social capital, local perspectives, and other social factors are important to consider when designing adaptation policies or programs as well as relocation or migration in the event that adaptation options in situ are exhausted. Inclusive planning and engagement for adaptation measures should include women, people with disabilities, and the elderly by following local social norms or customs. 

When climate-related migration or displacement is expected, potential intangible losses or damages cannot be ignored. Including local perspectives is essential for assessing the risks and vulnerabilities of communities facing potential climate-driven migration.

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