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Traditional Knowledge and Science Unite to tackle Climate Change with Innovative ClimateWatch App

17 June 2024

Traditional Knowledge and Science Unite to tackle Climate Change with Innovative ClimateWatch App

17 June 2024

Vanuatu Ranked World's Most At-Risk Country for Natural Disasters: Traditional Knowledge and Science Unite to tackle Climate Change with Innovative ClimateWatch App, an initiative of Earthwatch Australia.

The World Risk Report has ranked Vanuatu as the world’s most at-risk country to natural disasters and extreme weather events, making climate change the greatest ongoing threat to the well-being and livelihoods of its people and ecosystems.

For generations, Traditional Knowledge about plants, animals and climate patterns has allowed communities in Vanuatu to plan and prepare for local conditions.  However, urbanisation has significantly decreased the intergenerational transfer of traditional knowledge. In recent times Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-Hazards Department (VMGD) has been producing forecasts and warnings based on ocean and atmospheric conditions. 

Extensive research by Dr Lynda Chambers and Dr Roan Plotz shows Vanuatu communities want traditional and contemporary weather forecasting methods combined.  Combining Traditional Knowledge with scientific data can enhance the clarity of climate and weather information, helping to protect communities from extreme weather events.

To achieve this, we need to better understand how Traditional Knowledge forecasts work, and if climate change is impacting their effectiveness. Monitoring Traditional Knowledge indicators such as plants and animals, and climate conditions will help us understand how climate change alters these species.

“Traditional knowledge plays a central role in community resilience in the Pacific islands,” said Mr. Sunny Kamuta Seuseu, Climate Information Services Officer, SPREP. “For future generations to continue to employ traditional knowledge in managing current and future climate risks, it is essential to record traditional knowledge.”   

ClimateWatch, an initiative of Earthwatch Australia, is the first mobile app in Vanuatu’s Bislama language to be pioneering citizen science in the Pacific Islands region. It empowers citizen scientists, enabling anyone in Vanuatu with a smartphone and an internet connection to go out and 'spot' traditional climate knowledge indicator species.

The introduction of the ClimateWatch app within Vanuatu will provide communities with a resource to pass on Traditional Knowledge understandings to younger generations and allows VMGD to combine Traditional Knowledge and weather forecast data to determine the impacts of Climate Change on species and provide more rigorous and robust climate forecasts for a climate ready Vanuatu.

“With the increasing threat of Climate Change to Vanuatu, Earthwatch is proud to build on its expertise as one of the leading citizen science organisations in Australia and partner with the nation to deliver support” said Fiona Sutton Wilson, CEO of Earthwatch Australia. 

 Thanks to a 4-day workshop hosted by VMGD from May 28-31, 2024, local trainers are now equipped to introduce the app to Vanuatu community members. The workshop was co-hosted by the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-hazards Department (VMGD), in collaboration with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), Earthwatch Australia, and with funding support from the Global EbA fund.

“It is a powerful tool that allows every ni-Vanuatu... to be involved in collecting and recording data that will help shape the country’s scientific response to climate change.” said Ms Moirah Matou, VanKIRAP Project Manager, VMGD.