Ireland and ADB helping small island states in the Pacific respond to climate change

Article | 12 May 2021

In 2019, Ireland announced the formation of a new $13.4 million climate change and disaster resilience fund for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Pacific. The Ireland Trust Fund for Building Climate Change and Disaster Resilience in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) was announced at the Asian Development Bank’s Annual Meeting in Fiji—the first one ever hosted by a developing member country in the Pacific—and would target technical assistance and capacity development in the 14 SIDS countries in the Pacific. Two years on, the fund has already had an impact helping to strengthen resilience for many countries especially vulnerable to the impact of climate change and natural disasters.

In an interview with ADB, Ireland’s Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora, Colm Brophy, T.D., discusses the urgency of the climate change threat in the Pacific, what impact the Fund is already having on the ground, and how other partners can step up to meet this critical challenge.

What has been the impact so far of the Irish Trust Fund?

The fund, Ireland’s first ever at the ADB, is a demonstration of Ireland’s solidarity with our fellow small island states. It has helped consolidate and deepen our friendships.

During the first two years of the fund it has already allocated just short of $5 million to country-specific and regional programs, which are building climate change and disaster resilience in the small island states that are members of the ADB.

A particular element in which I take pride is that Ireland and ADB have ensured that our small island partners are consulted on the design of every project. This, I hope, gives our fellow islanders direct ownership of the process.  Importantly, it helps ensure the funds are used in a way that is best suited to the needs of each island. 

In Tonga and Vanuatu, projects have begun to provide support to communities as they design more resilient infrastructure. Just last month, we approved a slate of projects including assistance to Fiji and the Marshall Islands, which will enable them to increase coastal resilience through nature-based and integrated solutions to erosion resulting from climate change.

The Irish Trust Fund is also supporting regional initiatives, including the Pacific Disaster Resilience Program. This will benefit all countries in the Pacific and help build the capacity of atoll nations to engage the global community even more effectively on climate change.

I am particularly proud our trust fund was able to respond quickly to COVID19. Last year, we diverted $2.3 million from the fund to provide for a range of country and regional supports for those worst affected by the current pandemic. We very much appreciated the ADB’s flexibility in enabling the trust fund to respond so quickly in this way. 

Great progress has been made in project development so far, with the ADB an excellent partner for Ireland in the Pacific.

How urgent is the threat of climate change to these countries?

Climate change was a threat yesterday and is a greater threat today to all the small island states. Rising sea levels, severe storm damage, and salt-water intrusion are already having significant impacts, and are part of the reality to which governments of small island states must respond. I am very conscious of the challenges these governments are addressing to secure future clean water supplies, agricultural production and fisheries, to mention but a few. Ireland wants to work with our fellow small islanders to encourage our EU partners and others in the international community to do even more to enable small island states respond now to the pressing infrastructure and policy issues which climate change poses them.

The trust fund is not the only way Ireland is engaging in the Pacific, is it?

That’s correct. Last year, 2020, we launched our Global Ireland - Asia Pacific Strategy. This commits us to a strengthened engagement in the region, and builds upon our SIDS Strategy launched in 2019. I’m pleased to report that we are making good progress in delivering on the commitments made in both strategies.

We are holding regular meetings with small island partners to share views and build further collaboration. We call these meetings ‘céilí’, echoing ‘Talanoa’, the word used by Pacific island states to describe their meetings. These ‘céilí’ help inform our partnerships with our fellow small islanders in multilateral forums, such as the UN, on issues of common concern – including climate change. 

We have also strengthened our diplomatic ties through our ambassadors in the Pacific region and we are making progress toward the establishment of a network of envoys to further support and deepen these ties. I am also delighted that the Ireland Fellows Programme for SIDS is making it possible for a number of students to come to Ireland to study here. Finally, Ireland is supporting small islands as a member of the European Union:  through mechanisms such as the EDF and the work of the EIB, over €800 million has been provided by Team Europe to Pacific islands since 2014. We look forward to further EU cooperation in the coming period and Ireland will remain an active advocate for the Pacific SIDS at the EU table.

How do you see ADB’s role in working with the Pacific SIDS?

ADB’s role is very important.  Not only do international financial institutions like ADB  provide direct finance but, in partnership with Ireland and other partners, they also contribute directly to creating the right conditions for our small island friends to attract the international investment necessary to build back better—and greener. On its own, our trust fund can only make a small dent in the problems faced by the small island developing states. What Ireland wants to see is significant private capital flowing in to the small islands so they can build resilience against storms or sea level rises and make progress in converting to green energy, green transport and so on. It is through good partners, like the ADB, that this can be achieved.