October 12, 2020

Workshop ‘Comparative Learning: Climate Change, Relocation and Peacebuilding in Fiji’

On 5 and 6 October, the Toda Peace Institute, Conciliation Resources and Transcend Oceania hosted a workshop under the title of ‘Comparative Learning: Climate Change, Relocation and Peacebuilding in Fiji’. It had a unique innovative format: it was a ‘hybrid’ online and in-person event. Participants based in Fiji gathered in a venue in Suva, while participants from Australia and New Zealand joined in online. We had originally planned a conventional workshop in Suva, but due to COVID-19 travel restrictions we had to change to this experimental format – and, given the challenging circumstances, it worked pretty well, thanks not least to the skilful online and in situ facilitation.

In line with previous workshops that the Toda Peace Institute has conducted on issues of ‘climate change, conflict and peace in the Pacific’ in Auckland in 2018 and in Tokyo in 2019, this year’s workshop also brought together academics, policymakers and practitioners for a dialogue on the challenges posed by the conflict-prone effects of climate change and the ways forward to conflict-sensitive and peace-supportive climate change mitigation and adaptation. This time the workshop had a specific geographical and thematical focus: on the Pacific Island country of Fiji, and on climate-change induced human mobility. There were several reasons for this. Firstly, human mobility is a pressing issue for Fiji already today. Several villages affected by sea-level rise and coastal erosion have relocated to higher ground, others are currently in the process of relocation, and many more are preparing for it. Secondly, in Fiji the government, civil society and international donors are well advanced in addressing the issue of climate change-induced relocation; in this regard Fiji is an international forerunner. And thirdly, some peacebuilding NGOs are currently engaged in projects working together with relocating communities, hence a body of experience is building up here which lends itself to cooperative learning. It had been originally planned to also have broad participation of a range of community leaders at the workshop, but unfortunately this was not possible because the workshop format had to be changed due to the COVID-19 situation.

The workshop had more than 50 participants, slightly more gathering in person in Suva than attending online. It was held over the afternoon of 5 October and the morning of 6 October, organised in six sessions. In the first session, experiences from ongoing village relocations were presented and some of the challenges highlighted. In this session, several themes were addressed which came up repeatedly in the course of the entire workshop: climate change-induced relocation as a highly complex ‘wicked problem’; the need for coordination and cooperation of a variety of actors; the importance of time (not least for building relationships and trust), the tension between tight externally imposed timeframes and the need for a long-term approach; the problem with standardised formats and the need for high flexibility; the marginalisation of social, cultural and spiritual aspects in technically-informed relocation; and last but not least the challenges of meaningful community participation beyond mere tokenism, and, connected to this, the often unaddressed problem of power imbalances and power dynamics. In its presentation, Transcend Oceania explained how it is trying to address these challenges in its current project on building JustPeace in a changing environment and climate which it is conducting in cooperation with relocating communities.

While the first session dealt with planned community relocation, the second session turned to another form of climate change-induced human mobility, namely unplanned rural-urban migration from climate change affected areas to the few urban centres in the Pacific, noting that urbanisation will accelerate in the future due to the effects of climate change. This poses massive challenges for urban planning, for example in the greater Suva area – planning which has to take into account climate change and the conflict-prone problems of the expansion of informal ‘squatter’ settlements at the fringes of the cities. The third session was designated as a comparison of the COVID-19 crisis and the climate crisis, exploring similarities and differences, inter alia highlighting the problem of trust (the lack of trust in the political leaders at the grassroots in the communities), and the dangers of securitisation of both climate change and COVID-19. The fourth session asked how to bridge the gaps between community worlds and policy worlds, how to make local voices heard in the realm of state and politics, and how to facilitate dialogue across scales and between different types of actors. The fifth session provided an opportunity for representatives of the Government of Fiji and international actors (IOM, GIZ) to present their work and plans. The Fiji government’s Planned Relocation Guidelines and Displacement Guidelines as well as the Standard Operating Procedures which are currently elaborated demonstrate how much attention the state institutions pay to the issues discussed in the workshop.

In the concluding remarks in the sixth and final session, the need for a holistic and integrated multi-stakeholder and multi-scalar approach to the wicked problem of climate change relocation was highlighted, as was the need for inclusive dialogue and communication between a plurality of narratives and voices, in times of a crisis of trust. In this context, the importance of traditional knowledge, long timeframes and transparent decision-making and genuine consultations – and what this actually encompasses in a Pacific context – were flagged. And finally, the limits of a merely human-centred approach (which is still inherent in a rather comprehensive and progressive concept as human security) were problematised and a plea was made for a ‘whole of life’ approach which does not have the human being in isolation at its centre, but understands human beings and human society relationally, in relation to other-than-human beings, both in the material and spiritual worlds.

As was to be expected, there were some technical difficulties – bringing people in a venue in Suva together with people scattered over Australia and New Zealand is not easy even in these times of high tech. And the online participants of course missed out on the small talk before and after sessions and during morning and afternoon tea breaks (not to mention the Fijian food). But the new format also offered new opportunities of participation via chat and questions functions and the option to continue the conversations online after the workshop.

The Toda Peace Institute would like to thank its partners Conciliation Resources and Transcend Oceania for the smooth cooperation in organising this event, Transcend Oceania’s staff for its work on the ground, and the in-situ MC Paulo Baleinakorodawa as well as the ‘master of the virtual universe’, Tim Grice, for steering us through uncharted waters.

The Toda Peace Institute will publish a Policy Brief based on the discussions of the workshop shortly.

Here are the links to video presentations at the workshop:
Jonathan Cohen: https://youtu.be/bZPunAR078g
Anna Anisi: https://youtu.be/44qc6EzmqkE
Jon Barnett: https://youtu.be/O28t-Hyjfbs