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

Climate change and disaster impacts

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.

Tonga is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change with 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, including stronger tropical cyclones, flooding, drought and heat waves, coastal erosion, increased 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 estimated at 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. 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 level rise. The January 2022 Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai Volcanic Eruption and Tsunami has reminded us that Tonga is also vulnerable to geohazards. Increasing support for disaster risk reduction and preparedness is helping communities build resilience in the face of extreme weather events and other hazards.
  • Climate change disproportionately impacts those already experiencing exclusion and marginalisation, including women, people with disabilities and people living in poverty. Australia is committed to supporting Gender-responsive and inclusive approaches to climate and disaster risk resilience result in better program outcomes.

Bilateral programs

Australia integrates climate and disaster resilience through its bilateral development assistance to Tonga across all areas of programming, including the infrastructure, education, energy and governance sectors.

  • Australia is partnering with Tonga and New Zealand to build a new climate and disaster resilient Parliament House and Legislative Assembly, following the old building’s destruction by Cyclone Gita in 2018. The design process will be risk informed, taking into consideration climate projections for the lifespan of the building.  
  • The co-funded Tonga Renewable Energy Program ($3.5 million, 2018-2024) and Outer Islands Renewable Energy Program (OIREP) ($9.5 million, 2013 – 2023) are helping the country meet its target of 75 percent renewable energy by 2025. Using renewable energy, such as solar, helps communities recover faster from disasters. Through this program, women have been trained to maintain power lines in support of ongoing employment, breaking down gender stereotypes about women in technical roles.
  • The Nuku’alofa Network Upgrade Project ($5.3 million, 2021-2024) is supporting upgrades to energy infrastructure on Tongatapu, ensuring it is safer, more reliable and climate resilient. The upgrades will support Tonga’s disaster resilience and preparedness.   
  • The Nuku’alofa Urban Development Sector Project ($9.1 million, 2011-20) has helped to ensure people have access to fresh water and is protecting them from sicknesses resulting from inadequate or flooded sewerage systems as disasters increase and intensify due to climate change.
  • Through the Tonga Economic and Public Sector Reform Program, 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 globally funded climate change investments are working directly to build climate change and disaster resilience in Tonga and across the region, including:

  • The Climate and Oceans Support Program in the Pacific Phase 3 (COSPPac3) (Australian contribution $30 million, 2023-29) 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. Australia has also supported the repair and restoration of tide gauges.
  • The Governance for Resilient Development in the Pacific Program (Gov4Res) (Australian contribution $7.9 million, 2019-2023) supports national and local governments and communities, as well as regional organisations, to strengthen decision-making processes and governance systems towards risk informed and resilient development. In Tonga, Gov4Res is supporting the establishment of two new staff members in the Resilience Development and Finance Division of the Ministry of Finance.
  • Through Pacific Women Lead, Australia supports the Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO) to advance women’s leadership in climate change decision-making and negotiations ($699,900, 2022-2024) and the Shifting the Power Coalition (1.9 million 2021- 2026) to strengthen diverse women’s leadership in humanitarian action.
  • The Australia Assists program ($94.7 million globally, 2017-2024) deploys technical specialists to work with governments, multilateral agencies and communities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and conflict. Specialists are supporting the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) to deliver risk reduction measures.
  • The Australian Red Cross-DFAT Humanitarian Partnership ($50 million, 2019-2024) supports the National Red Cross Society, enabling local communities to be better prepared for, respond to and recover from climate hazards and disasters. The National Society is trusted by national government partners and local communities to provide local leadership in disaster preparedness and response.
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