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Tonga - Australia’s commitment to strengthening climate and disaster resilience in the Pacific

At the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum, Australia pledged to spend $500 million over five years (2020-2025) to strengthen climate change and disaster resilience in the Pacific. This builds on Australia’s strong support for Pacific climate change and disaster resilience, and success in exceeding a 2016 commitment to spend $300 million over four years (2016-2020). Australia is committed to working in partnership with the Government of Tonga to meet the needs and aspirations of its people to build resilience to climate change and disaster events.

Climate change and disaster impacts in Tonga

Tonga is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Most of the population and critical infrastructure is located on atoll islands - including the very low-lying Tongatapu atoll. Tonga is susceptible to a range of climate change challenges, such as stronger tropical cyclones, flooding, drought and heat waves, coastal erosion, increase acidity of ocean waters and sea level rise.

  • As climate change impacts intensify, Tonga will experience more severe storms like 2018’s Tropical Cyclone Gita (which caused damages close to 40 percent of Tonga’s GDP) and 2020’s Tropical Cyclone Harold. Australia’s support for communities to transition to solar power is helping increase the resilience of Tonga’s energy system so communities can recover more quickly after disasters.
  • The majority of Tonga’s population relies on freshwater lenses (fresh groundwater that floats above the denser saltwater) under the Tongatapu atoll. Extreme rainfall, stronger storm surges and sea level rise all increase the likelihood of these lenses becoming polluted. Australia is helping to ensure residents of Nuku’alofa have secure access to freshwater, even in the aftermath of a disaster.
  • Losses from disasters are likely to escalate with climate change. Increasing support for disaster risk reduction and preparedness is helping communities build resilience in the face of extreme weather events.
  • The majority of Tongan communities and the country’s critical infrastructure are located on the coast and are at risk of flooding from storm surge and king tides, as well as sea levels rise. Australia is helping Tongan builders attain the skills they need to construct climate and disaster resilient housing.

Bilateral programs

Australia has provided approximately $13.4 million in bilateral climate change and disaster resilience support to Tonga since 2016. This support is built into many programs, including in the infrastructure, education, energy and governance sectors.

  • After the School Infrastructure Risk Assessment was undertaken for all 95 primary schools in Tonga, the Pacific Resilience Project (Cyclone Gita Recovery, $3 million, 2017-2018) has been supporting the upgrade of school buildings to be climate and disaster resilient and accessible for people with disabilities.  
  • The Nuku’alofa Urban Development Sector Project ($0.7 million 2016-20 in climate change and disaster finance of $9 million 2011-20 project total) is helping to ensure people have access to fresh water and that Tongans are less likely to get sick due to inadequate or flooded sewerage systems as disasters increase and intensify under climate change.
  • The co-funded Tonga Renewable Energy Program ($3.5 million, 2019-2022) is helping the country meet its target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2020. Using renewable energy, such as solar, helps communities recover faster from disasters and provides more affordable sources of power.
  • Through the Tonga Economic and Public Sector Reform Program ($4.1 million 2016-2020 in climate change and disaster finance of $24.6 million 2016-2024 project total), Australia is helping the Government of Tonga undertake policy reforms, including in the energy sector where renewable energy is a priority.

Regional and global programs

A range of regional and global climate change investments are working directly to build climate and disaster resilience in Tonga, including:

  • The Climate and Oceans Support Program in the Pacific Phase 2 (COSPPac) ($23.3 million, 2018-2022) supports the Tonga Meteorological Service to provide climate and ocean monitoring and prediction services. Climate predictions help farmers plan for planting and harvesting, and Pacific island countries to prepare for disasters like droughts and tropical cyclones. Ocean predictions (tide, currents, wind and waves) support fishing, tourism and shipping.
  • The Pacific Women, Shaping Pacific Development in Tonga ($9 million over 10 years 2012–2022) raised awareness of the nexus between gender equality and climate change by supporting women’s voices to influence decision making and to support climate agreements being implemented in a gender-responsive way.
  • Accelerating Climate Education program is helping the Tonga Skills Program ($7.5 million, 2016-2021) tailor climate education materials, enabling integration of climate change skills development into vocational training courses.
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