Marie Stephania Perrine, MPhil candidate at the Islands and Small States (ISS) at the University of Malta and UNFCCC Capacity Fellow at the UN Secretariat for Climate Change in Bonn, Germany.
Unlike developed and bigger developing countries, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are more vulnerable to climate change. Vulnerability is the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. SIDS’ vulnerability is a function of three elements: exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity. Moreover, this vulnerability is context-specific and should be understood in terms of SIDS’ specific history, culture and social contexts.
Climate change adaptation refers to processes or actions taken by communities or natural systems to limit or reduce the adverse effects of climate change. SIDS face more challenges to implement adaptation strategies due to their exposure and sensitivity to climate-related risks and the economic burden associated with adaptation. Factors like knowledge, socio-cultural history, beliefs, governance and institutional mechanisms can also facilitate or inhibit adaptation strategies.
Table 1: Description of the different vulnerabilities of SIDS 
Figure 1: Definition of the three components of vulnerability 
Understanding how people contextually perceive climate phenomena is important as it influences how they perceive both the seriousness and the likelihood of extreme climate events. Perception can further inform adaptation measures policies and behaviour change.
Rodrigues is a semi-autonomous outer island of the Republic of Mauritius with a population of 44, 427 inhabitants as at year 2021. Rodrigues gained regional autonomy in 2002 and has a local government, the Rodrigues Regional Assembly (RRA), which is democratically elected every five years.
In the 1960s, Rodrigues had a successful economy with a blooming agriculture sector which was mainly organised on a household basis and regularly exporting much of its products (fish, onions, lime, sheep and poultry) to mainland Mauritius. However, all these declined in the 1970s due to a severe drought. Rodrigues has since, failed to spring back to its former glorious days despite countless governmental initiatives.
Pressure from human activities and natural factors have highly modified the island’s ecosystems. Rodrigues is considered as the most degraded of the Mascarene Islands with the extinction and decline of much of its endemic fauna and flora, and the proliferation of invasive alien plant species like Acacia nilotica. Intensive in-lagoon fishing has exerted throbbing pressure over decades and has resulted in drastic fish stock decline and degradation of marine ecosystem. Moreover, agricultural land use has decreased considerably due to market prices, low production yields, lack of water and exogenous factors such as weather.
Rodrigues has warmed up by 0.5 – 1.0 °C according to Meteorological Services. Annual analysis shows significant variation in annual rainfall. Based on projections from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCCC) Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), decreasing rainfall and increasing frequency of extreme events are expected.
Given the development challenges and the threats of climate change, the research used a case study approach to understand perceptions of climate change and adaptation of the local community. The research approach mainly focused on the following objectives:
- To explore perceptions of local individuals on climate change.
- To understand concerns about the Impacts of climate change on Rodrigues.
- To investigate adaptation measures deployed at local level to mitigate observed climate related risks.
Data was collected through an open-ended survey questionnaire from 110 respondents  through online and face-to-face modes. To ensure a fair representation of respondents from different sectors and socio-economic background, Rodriguan respondents were randomly selected at convenience. Information was collected on:
- respondent’s demographics;
- concerns about issues faced by Rodrigues now and, in the future;
- knowledge about causes of climate change;
- perceptions of changes in the climate, impacts on livelihoods, adaptation strategies
- intentions and willingness to adopt environment-friendly behavior/adaptation practices
Table 2: Age and Education Crosstabulation of Survey Respondents
Using snowballing, an in-depth interview was conducted with 12 informants. The first two respondents provided a list of potential contacts. This non-probability sampling method helped in finding key informants from NGOs, government, fishermen, agricultural and civil society representatives who were relevant to the research. Some of the questions related to:
- Whether climate variability was accentuating in Rodrigues;
- How climate variability was impacting livelihoods in Rodrigues;
- Whether any adaptation initiatives were being implemented;
- Whether the population was aware of the need for climate change adaptation;
- Whether the government realised that climate change has a role to play in the island’s development.
Climate Change: uneven awareness and response capabilities
The survey found that most Rodriguans (80%) agree that the climate has changed. Rodriguans’ perceptions are mainly based on their personal interpretations of climatic events. People have observed an increase in climatic events such as droughts, heatwaves, flooding and cyclones. For them, these events have some direct effects on their lives in terms of increase in food prices, health and water availability.
Most respondents (45%) believe that climate change is mainly caused by anthropogenic pressures from human activities while some (36%) were aware of the contributory part of natural processes.
Generational differences in response to climate events exist. For instance, during the unexpected, prolonged rain period from January to April 2018, planters aged 45 years old and above, dealt better with the ‘unusual’ situation than the younger ones because their elders once told them about the huge floods before the 1970s or because themselves have once experienced such climatic experiences. Older planters also knew they should build canals in their plantations as a preventive measure while the younger planters were distraught and overwhelmed by the weekly floodings. This not only shows that response capabilities differ across generations, but it further highlights the lack of local knowledge transmission to plan and manage climate risks.
Based on results, in Rodrigues, perception comprises of interrelated socio-psychological determinants such as cognitive, experiential and socio-cultural factors which shape the dimension of perceived risk. Although climate change is perceived as a serious problem globally, in Rodrigues there exists differentiated constructs that shape the level of climate-related beliefs, knowledge, urgency, risk perceptions and subsequently willingness to adapt (see Table 2). Societal evolution and the psychological dimension of perception contribute to how Rodriguans respond to climate change.
Table 3: The Socio-psychological determinants of perception in Rodrigues
Concerns about climate change
Concerns about climate change impacts were further explored in the interviews with key informants. A strong co-dependency between Rodriguans and their ecosystem for their livelihoods – marine and terrestrial ecosystems – was found. Strong demand and dependence on ecosystem services are however, adversely impacted by current ecosystems degradation. The drivers causing pressure on ecosystems are economic, cultural, sociopolitical and technological.
Current adaptation measures, opportunities and weaknesses
A few adaptation measures are initiated by the local government, sometimes in cooperation with local NGOs. Banning plastic bags, octopus fishing closures, community forest and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were recurrently mentioned. 6 out of 12 (key interviewees) believed that these measures have some success and positive impact. The remaining believed they are limited as illegal fishing still prevail and individual pro-environment behaviors are minimal.
Agriculture in Rodrigues faces many challenges. Most farmers still practise traditional agriculture. Interviewed farmers complained about their inability to adapt to changes. Their level of education (they did not complete primary education) play a great role in their inability to understand and use modern technologies. Few of them consider crop diversification and changing crop planting months as adaptive measures. The major challenges identified were water stress, saline intrusion, lack of technical knowledge, access to insurance (credit facilities), expensive farm inputs in terms of seeds and bio fertilizers, lack of agricultural extension services and education.
Adaptation measures are hampered by the strong self-consciousness of political divide. This situation relates to social identity whereby people adopt environmental attitudes and behaviors based on the ideology of the political party which they support. This research showed that adaptation initiatives (octopus fishing closures, marine reserves, banning plastic bags) met with some degree of acceptance or rejection based on the Rodriguans’ allegiance to the enacting political party. Interviewees explained that people believed these initiatives were an imposition on how they use their natural resources. By adopting such behaviors, Rodriguans think that members from similar political party are more likeable, knowledgeable and trustworthy than outgroup members.
Most adaptation projects have loopholes resulting from lack of community involvement, monitoring, entitlement failure, resource dependency, obsolete infrastructure and development issues related to prevailing economic systems, human resource and planning. These limitations enhance the island’s social vulnerability and hamper the wellbeing of its inhabitants as some adaptive measures, such as water desalinization, have resulted in maladaptation. There is a need for capacity-building at institutional, individual including systemic level and research to inform adaptation strategies in such cases.
This research provides a snapshot of the different challenges that requires attention given the significant impact of climate change in Rodrigues. Some key recommendations to inform and improve current and future adaptation strategies, policies and sustainability agenda are as follows:
- Mainstream climate change in the island’s development plans and sectoral programmes.
- Conduct research to identify climate change adaptation specific of Rodrigues’ agricultural and fishing sectors.
- Support environmental awareness initiatives through education and effective climate communication.
- Conduct vulnerability assessments to understand Rodrigues’ household social and physical vulnerability and preparedness to climate-related events.
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 IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L.White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 1132 pp
 The distribution of profession is representative of the job sectors available on the island. The highest employing sectors are the public administration (Rodrigues Regional Assembly) and education (Statistics Mauritius, 2016). The respondents confirmed this tendency as 27% of them were from the Public Sector (nurse, clerks, police officers amongst others) and 25% from the Education Sector (primarily secondary educators). Respondents from the private sector (Managers, journalist, sales representatives and entrepreneurs) was 21% and is equal to those from the section marked ‘others’. The 21 % response rate from this section is quite significant as it comes from respondents whom we don’t usually classify as being ‘employed’ such as housewives, fishermen, planters and students. Respondents who classify themselves as unemployed account for 7%.
Main photo Copyright © by Luiciano Fils Roussety.
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