Assistant researcher from the Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences, M’Randa Sandlin, moderates a discussion of threats, opportunities relating to climate change.

Pacific islands contribute less that 0.03 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet they suffer some of the greatest threats of climate change.

This was a central point made at the Hawaiʻi Extension Climate Forum, an event organized last month by faculty and staff of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR). The forum brought together other university and community partners addressing how, as extension professionals, they could help their clientele deal with the potential effects of climate change.

On the heels of Governor Ige’s historic commitment to the Paris Climate Accord, CTAHR’s Cooperative Extension Service convened a forum of more than 40 participants and presenters on June 7 and 8 to discuss how extension programs can promote and support climate adaptation in Hawaiʻi and other Pacific Islands.

The event was organized by Clay Trauernicht and Patricia Fifita in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management (NREM), with the support of extension faculty in the Departments of Tropical Plant and Soil Science and Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences.

“The breadth of expertise among extension specialists and agents, and their long-term relationships with agricultural producers, natural resource managers and the general public, places cooperative extension in a unique position to identify real solutions to climate-related problems and help people cope with changes coming down the line,” said Trauernicht.

Assessing the current situation

Forum participants worked to develop a foundational knowledge of the Pacific climate system and longer-term climate projections, identify relevant climate-related tools, and outline approaches to integrate climate science and climate change communication into existing extension programs.

The two-day event brought presenters from the U.S. Forest Service, the Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative, Pacific-RISA, SeaGrant and the Pacific Islands Climate Science Center. It also integrated facilitated discussions of climate adaptation and communication efforts by extension colleagues at the University of Arizona and the University of California.

Hawaiʻi extension participants were joined by representatives from Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands. Trauernicht and Fifita are developing similar forums focusing on local needs in collaboration with the Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative.

Work already being done

Hawaiʻi extension faculty are integrating climate curriculum into their programs by implementing precision agriculture to better manage irrigation and fertilizer application. Faculty members are also developing tools to support ranchers’ response to drought.

According to Rebecca Ryals, an NREM faculty member who presented and organized the forum, “There are strategies out there that help solve climate change and provide multiple benefits to farmers, ranchers and land managers. This forum provided an opportunity for extension faculty to start the discussion about which strategies are most appropriate and effective for our region.”

Feedback from forum participants noted the benefits of collaborating in this manner to understand how adaptation to shorter-term weather variability can support planning for longer-term climate shifts and to avoid “re-inventing the wheel island by island.”

An immediate output from the workshop was an assessment of existing, climate-related tools that will be organized on a CTAHR website to facilitate access by extension faculty. A longer-term output will be the development of a strategy, based on participant feedback, to support extension faculty and their clientele through the development of new climate-related tools and informational products.