Fiji has an abundance of natural resources, and lacks the intense demographic, economic and industrial pressures that cause many serious environmental issues. Still, the Small Island Developing State (SIDS) must contend daily with environmental challenges caused by the global climate crisis, including sea level rise, coastal erosion and bleaching of corals. These in turn cause loss of biodiversity which impacts livelihoods and food security. The global mismanagement of plastic waste has not spared Fiji either, with plastic waste increasingly contaminating the country’s shorelines and oceans.
To address these issues, Fiji has been looking towards innovative, nature-based solutions – approaches that use the power of nature to reduce climate risks and ensure human wellbeing and biodiversity benefits.
Here, Mr Joshua Wycliffe, the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Environment in Fiji, discusses the country’s experience.
How has Fiji has been using nature-based solutions to address environmental challenges?
Nature-based solutions play a huge role in how we build back better after the COVID-19 pandemic. A prime example, led by the Ministry of Environment and Waterways, are seawalls built with natural products, including rocks sourced from within the communities. We plant vetiver grass on the seawall and the roots of the grass net themselves into the rocks and firm them up. We have also engineered crevices into these walls where species of plants and animals can thrive, especially the indigenous endemic species. So, it becomes a living breathing wall.
We also plant a mangrove system around the wall, which turns into a biodiversity-rich protected area, while at the same time protecting the coastline from erosion. These walls also protect local communities from rising sea levels, loss of lives, loss of property, loss of cattle. At the same time, they have no chemicals or construction-based waste impact on our marine seascape areas.
Furthermore, we restore nature through establishing both seascape and landscape biodiversity parks.
Can these natural seawalls be replicated elsewhere in the world?
Absolutely. The seawalls follow the global standards of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), based on international best practice. It is a unique model which can be built at one tenth of the cost of a conventional seawall yet provides 25 years of guarantee. While conventional seawalls can take about six months to build, this one takes only six to eight weeks. It’s a good model and we’re happy to share our experiences with other countries. I have spoken at several international events, offering such solutions and suggestions. We’ve also worked with multilateral agencies who are interested in replicating this model in other countries, especially Small Island Developing States in the Pacific and elsewhere.
How does Fiji reconcile restoring nature with COVID-19 pandemic recovery?
The last couple of years have been a huge challenge for communities that have lost jobs due to the pandemic. Fiji’s government has designed a program called Jobs for Nature, where communities partner with the government and earn livelihoods by restoring the nature in their backyard. For example, coastal communities get paid to clean-up marine litter. ‘Jobs for Nature’ provides much-needed employment and income, while restoring nature and restoring what communities have lost.
Fiji is one of the 39 Member states that provided its full share to UNEP’s Environment Fund in 2021. How has the work of UNEP supported Fiji?
UNEP has been a major supporter in terms of policy, science research, in mobilisation of resources and in creating solutions for the future. Fiji supports UNEP financially by paying our full share because we would like to see UNEP’s role grow stronger in the Pacific so that we are able to provide more holistic solutions on marine plastics, biodiversity issues and on mending the ozone layer. On the ozone depleting substances alone we’ve been able to hit our targets, including of the Montreal Protocol, largely due to support by UNEP.
Fiji also celebrates recent progress to curb plastic pollution, including the historic UN Environment Assembly resolution. Fiji supports the creation of a global, legally binding agreement to tackle plastic pollution. We believe that the way forward is to negotiate the agreement under an intergovernmental negotiation committee under the auspices of UNEP.
Does Fiji have a call for action on environment for other nations?
Our primary call for action would be for greater collaboration. All of us have success stories. While one nation could be successful in designing nature-based solutions, another could be in something else. We don’t have to replicate resources; collaboration can save both time and money.
The Environment Fund: The Environment Fund is the core source of flexible funds to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It provides the bedrock for the work worldwide as UNEP supports countries to deliver on the environmental dimensions of the 2030 Agenda, and to address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss and pollution and waste. To support the Environment Fund, each of the 193 Member States is encouraged to contribute their full share, as represented by the ‘Voluntary Indicative Scale of Contributions’, established in 2002 by the Member States themselves. The scale considers each country individually and distributes responsibility collectively. Investing in UNEP means investing in the health of the planet and its people.