Vanuatu to focus on cutting national greenhouse gas emissions by almost 10 percent and halve the amount of solid waste produced by 2030

At the centre of Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, is the newly upgraded central market, Tamaso Fare Sara Akai. 

Each day, the market is a hive of activity, as locals and tourists meander the aisles, inspecting the colourful locally grown produce, baked goods and handicrafts spread out across the tables. 

It is more than a place to buy food. It is the heart of a community. 

On 14 March 2015, however, the marketplace was a mess. A day earlier, one of the most powerful cyclones to ever hit the Pacific, Category 5 TC Pam, had powered through the city and across the country, flattening up to 90 percent of buildings on the 22 affected islands, wiping out food crops and leaving almost a quarter of the population homeless. 

The cyclone would not be the only climate-related disaster to strike the country that year. Just months later, widespread drought conditions left people struggling to grow food and access drinking water, relying on aid distributions from the government. 

In April 2020, another Category 5 superstorm, TC Harold hit, this time severely damaging more than 60 percent of crops, again prompting an urgent international humanitarian response.

Ni-Vanuatu (the people of Vanuatu) know these potentially devastating shocks will only continue. To them, the need for a climate resilient future – for communities, families and businesses across the country – is clearer than ever. 

“Human-caused climate change is undermining Vanuatu’s right to sustainable development, and global efforts to protect planetary biodiversity and the future of our ocean… These grave climate injustices must stop by sustained, radical, and socially just cuts to emissions now, not later,” said Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Bob Loughman, ahead of COP26, 2021.

Meeting the climate crisis head-on

Accounting for just 0.0016 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, Vanuatu’s contribution to climate change barely registers. However, like other Pacific countries, the archipelago nation of just over 270,000 people is extremely vulnerable to climate change.

More climate-related shocks are on the horizon. Should the world fail to rein in carbon emissions, projections indicate Vanuatu could see an average temperature increase in excess of 2.5°C towards the end of the century, as well as more droughts. Under a high emissions scenario, sea levels are also projected to rise 0.74m by 2100. Cyclones, though expected to hit less frequently, are expected to become even more intense.

From agriculture to freshwater, coral reefs and fisheries, these changes will profoundly impact life on land and below water. The economic costs will be significant. Modelling by the Asian Development Bank suggests the small island developing state may experience GDP losses of around 6.2 percent by 2100. 

The health of Ni-Vanuatu will also be affected, with increased risk of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, chikungunya, and dengue fever.

Ahead of the curve

In response to its concerns around climate change, in 2013 the government of Vanuatu created a dedicated ministry to focus on the issue – among the first countries in the region to do so. 

Since its inception, the Ministry of Climate Change has been leading the national push to phase out fossil fuels and build climate-resilience.  

The country has made steady progress. In recent years, Vanuatu has woven climate action into its National Sustainable Development Plan, developed a National Energy Roadmap, and instituted a National Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction Policy for advancing resilience and adaptation.

In 2016, the small island developing state shared their initial climate commitments with the global community in their first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). It contained the aspiration to replace nearly all fossil fuels for electricity and to realize 65 percent renewable energy by 2030. 

Five years on, and only months after graduating from the status of Least Developed Country, Vanuatu has again shown world-leading ambition through the country’s enhanced NDC.

The updated NDC is the result of extensive consultation across government as well as development partners, communities, civil society and the private sector. The revision saw a range of sectors added alongside energy – including transport, agriculture, forestry and land use, and waste – as well as extensive detail around the urgent priority of adaptation. 

A defining feature: an embrace of circular economy principles. 

While around 59 percent of the country’s economy is already considered circular – compared to the rest of the world, which is estimated to be only 8.6 percent – the government has been looking closely at how circular economy approaches can further help maximize resources and minimize waste while cutting greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the natural environment.

By introducing measures such as diverting organic waste from landfill towards energy generation (biogas) and compost, converting grassland to silvopastoral livestock systems, and taxes on pollution, Vanuatu could cut national greenhouse gas emissions by almost 10 percent and halve the amount of solid waste produced by 2030.

Looking towards net zero carbon by 2050, Vanuatu is now focusing on finalizing a Low-Emission Development Strategy and fast-tracking the implementation of their climate goals under the Paris Agreement.

Looking ahead

On a tour of the South Pacific ahead of the 2019 global Climate Action Summit, UN Secretary-General António Guterres visited the Port Vila marketplace to hear local vendors’ own experiences of the climate crisis.

The exchanges reflected how Vanuatu faces some of the most damaging impacts of climate change. But also, how the small island state’s future is staked in preparedness.

As the government charts a course towards a sustainable and prosperous future for all ni-Vanuatu, there may be lessons for us all.

UNDP’s Climate Promise supports 120 countries – including 28 small island developing states – to enhance their Nationally Determined Contributions under the global Paris Agreement. Delivered in collaboration with a wide variety of partners, it is the world’s largest offer of support for the enhancement of climate pledges. Vanuatu is receiving support through the Climate Promise as a contribution to the NDC Partnership Climate Action Enhancement Package (CAEP).

This feature was written by Kate Jean Smith, and originally published at UNDP on 17 February 2022.

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