WITH our Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama presiding as chair for the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany this week, it is important to showcase some of the work Fiji is doing to try and combat the impacts of climate change. Emalu, Fiji's National REDD+ pilot site is a good case study of Fiji's efforts to strengthen mitigation and adaptation actions through a participatory and multi-sectoral approach.
Emalu forest belongs to the Mataqali Emalu of the Yavusa Emalu in the village of Draubuta, tikina (district) of Noikoro in Navosa. It is one of the few remaining primary indigenous forests in Fiji.
The Emalu forest is accessible to Emalu landowners and nearby villages; Navitilevu and Nakoro. For a newcomer it is a nine-hour trek up the rough and rugged terrain to the Tovatova Catchment — one of the three catchments in that forest. The other two are Mavuvu and Waikarakarawa.
As landowners to this vast untouched but once inhabited land with an area of 7347 hectares covered predominantly by pristine forest, the Mataqali Emalu have agreed to conserve their forest for future generations.
Aside from reducing greenhouse gas emissions and accessing carbon financing for the protection of their forest, the protection of the forests will also result in other non-carbon benefits such as the protection of freshwater sources, food, traditional medicine, cultural heritage sites and values and alternative livelihood programs.
Trekking through the Emalu forest, Mataqali Emalu head Lemeki Toutou said he was grateful for the intervention sought by his nephew Ilaitia Leitabu with support from Government, the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Government of Germany and its technical agency (GIZ).
"We were on the verge of logging all our trees here in this forest. We are grateful for the intervention to compensate us while we agree to protect and conserve our trees. Where we are right now, this is one of our old village site called yavu Mataiemalu.
"You are here today to witness the trees, ecosystems and biodiversity in our forest which will also be storing carbon and giving out fresh air," Mr Toutou said.
Emalu was selected as a pilot site for the Fiji National REDD+ Program in 2012. There are more than 30 registered members of the Mataqali Emalu and the majority are women who reside outside Draubuta.
Following an expression of interest from the mataqali in 2011, a series of meetings were held at Draubuta to discuss REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest degradation and the role of (+) forest conservation, sustainable management of forests and forest carbon stock enhancement) and the requirements surrounding the development of a REDD+ pilot site. These meetings involved other mataqali members residing in the village and included awareness raising sessions on forests, climate change and REDD+ and its requirements for landowners.
The Emalu forest area was marked for logging, however swift action by the Fijian Government with support from the SPC/GIZ Coping with Climate Change in the Pacific Island Region (CCCPIR) program, Emalu is under conservation for the next 50 years.
For this the landowners are indeed grateful as they realise how they can contribute to the fight against climate change.
Mr Leitabu, who is also the landowner representative at national, regional or international meetings related to REDD+, said they were fortunate Government had assisted them conserve their forests.
Emalu forest is considered a very important watershed. When compared with all the headwaters of the Sigatoka River, Emalu is the only, still undisturbed, tributary. The forest also provides numerous ecosystem services such as food, freshwater, wood, medicine and regulates microclimate, floods, diseases, water purification and has significant cultural value.
Trekking through the forest of Emalu you will be sure to pass cultural and historical sites significant to the history of Mataqali Emalu and other clans in Draubuta as well as nearby villages Nakoro and Navitilevu. Taboo sites, ancient landmarks and old village sites hold deep spiritual and cultural meaning to the people of the area.
Historical features and archaeological evidence reveal the ingenuity and perseverance of the Emalu ancestors that allowed them to live in such remote, rugged and challenging terrain. These features include old agriculture terraces, extensive channels, ditches for dalo irrigation, habitation terraces, hill fortifications, habitation platforms, scattered clay pottery and stone alignments or rock features that indicate traditional land boundaries.
Emalu forest is also a unique biodiversity hot spot compared with similar sites in Fiji. A number of endemic species found in Emalu include Fiji's ground frog which is near threatened, Fiji's tree frog which is critically endangered and the nanai or an endemic and rare cicada with a unique life cycle where adults emerge only after eight years of breeding underground. This rare cicada is also the animal totem of the Emalu clan.
However, herein lies a threat to the Emalu forest. Agriculture clearance for farming activities has been taking place within the Emalu boundary.
Part of this land which is common during the dry season is burnt for land clearing. In addition, there is a threat of free roaming livestock and invasive species into the Emalu forest.
Agriculture is the main source of income for Draubuta, Nakoro and Vitilevu villages.
Makelesi Nasiri a wife and mother from a neighbouring village married in Draubuta said: "We feel that with the protection of this forest, a lot more good things will be done to enhance the livelihood of households. We have been taught to protect the trees in Emalu forest by not doing logging activities or burning."
Climate change, forests & REDD+
Mr Bainimarama is calling on leaders to together tackle the underlying causes of climate change. "Climate change is as great a threat to global security as any source of conflict. Millions of people are already on the move because of drought and the changes to agriculture threatening their food security and access to water," Mr Bainimarama said.
"For the Fijian people, climate change is real. It affects our lives altogether. Whether it is the whole villages we are moving out of the way of the rising seas; the loss of our ancestral burial grounds; the salinity affecting our crops; or the constant threat of destruction to homes and infrastructure of the kind we experienced last year."
Climate change is caused directly or indirectly by human activity that changes the composition of the global atmosphere and is in addition to natural climate variability observed over time.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide in the earth's atmosphere have increased to levels unprecedented in the past 800,000 years.
Carbon dioxide concentrations have increased by 40 per cent since pre-inudstrial times primary from fossil fuel emissions and secondary from emissions in land use change.
According to the NOAA Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, 2015 was the fourth consecutive year that carbon dioxide (CO2) grew more than 2 parts per million (ppm). In February 2016, the average global atmospheric carbon dioxide level stood at 402.59ppm. Prior to 1800, atmospheric carbon dioxide averaged about 280ppm. The last time the Earth experienced such a sustained carbon dioxide increase was between 17,000 and 11,000 years ago when carbon dioxide levels increased by 80ppm.
Today's rate of increase is 200 times faster exacerbated by the El Nino weather pattern experienced worldwide. El Nino warms and dries tropical ecosystems, reduces their uptake of carbon (reduced carbon sequestration) and exacerbates forest fires through the release of carbon dioxide. The impacts of El Nino are now more severe than the last big El Nino experienced in 1997/1998 since human emissions are now 25 per cent greater.
* Reama Naco is the communications officer for Fiji REDD+. Views expressed are not of this newspaper. Continued next week
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