The importance of attention to customary tenure solutions: slow onset risks and the limits of Vanuatu's climate change and resettlement policy

Elsevier, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Volume 50, June 2021
McDonnell S.

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Oceans and the Cryosphere in a Changing Climate suggests sea level rise may be best understood as a slow onset disaster for Pacific Island countries and, in particular, low lying atoll nations. Sea-level rise, coastal flooding and surge inundation is an increasingly pressing problem across the urban Pacific. This paper begins with a discussion of how issues such as sea level rise and forced relocation are addressed within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations (UNFCCC) and, specifically in the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM). Beyond the material impacts, what is even more important for Pacific people in the context of long-term climate induced displacement are the non-economic losses associated with the loss of human life, cultural connection and loosing connection to their ancestral land and places of belonging. In this context, the Vanuatu government have recently developed a climate change and resettlement policy which supposedly offers three broad state-oriented and human rights-based durable solutions to resettlement. However in Vanuatu, like elsewhere in the Pacific, the overwhelming majority of land is held under customary tenure arrangements. An alternative, and arguably more effective approach, to resettlement solutions may be to negotiate arrangements through customary institutions rather than the state.