The first meeting of the ACU Commonwealth Climate Resilience Network took place in Suva, Fiji, this week, as universities from across the Commonwealth came together to share expertise and experiences of coping with natural disasters.
The event was held in partnership with Fiji National University, the University of the South Pacific, and the University of the West Indies – threeACU member institutions who have all felt first-hand the effect of climate-related disasters on their campuses and communities. The urgency of the issue was highlighted by the Fijian Minister for Employment, The Hon Jone Usamate, whose impassioned opening speech was a moving reminder of the devastation caused by Cyclone Winston in 2016.
Today’s opening session began with a passionate, informed speech by the Fijian Minister for Employment, productivity and Industrial Relations "I hope that this network will bring life back to the people affected by climate disasters" - #ACUclimate #ACUpacific pic.twitter.com/qU6hUDxyEy— The ACU (@The_ACU) October 21, 2018
Delegates also heard from Professor Nii-K Plange, an organising partner from Fiji National University, who spoke of his hopes and ambitions for the new network: 'Out of this' he said, 'we hope to share experiences, document lessons, and begin to design strategies to strengthen the resilience of universities'.
The discussions that followed highlighted the shared challenges of affected countries and the many commonalities that exist, notwithstanding their geographical distance. It was particularly evident that natural disasters disrupt universities in their work and mission, far beyond the event itself: participants spoke passionately about the challenges they face in the aftermath, for example, when electricity doesn't return for many months, transport stops, and universities are forced to close their doors. There was also a shared consensus that disaster preparedness must be taken as seriously as emergency response.
Reflecting on discussions, Alex Wright, Head of Public Policy at the ACU, said: 'What's interesting is that there are universities on the front line of climate change that have hard-won knowledge they can share with institutions who traditionally haven't had to deal with those risks but are increasingly doing so. Many of the staff and academics have been through more than one climate disaster and have seen the effect it's had on the region. It's really brought home that our responsibility is to act now – as universities and thought leaders – to take practical actions to show the way forward'.
Dr Joanna Newman, who recently addressed Commonwealth finance ministers in Bali about the network, added: 'Universities here today – and others around the Commonwealth – have untold stories of bravery and sound decision-making under pressure, as well as lessons to be learned themselves and shared with others. The Commonwealth Climate Resilience Network will bring them together to share best practice, learn from each other, and inform policymakers of their findings.'
To conclude the event, Professor Nigel Healey, ACU Council member and Vice-Chancellor of Fiji National University, was announced as the network's first Chair. Professor Healey will work alongside co-conveners Jeremy Collymore, Disaster Resilience Consultant at the University of the West Indies, and Professor Elisabeth Holland, Director of the Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development, and co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
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