The ECOPAS Project: Background Story

Restoring the Human to Climate Change

Climate change is perhaps the most severe challenge faced today by the Pacific Islands region. Sea level rise, droughts and additional new patterns of extreme weather, ocean acidification and related processes combine with other forms of environmental change to pose threats to the future viability of local lifestyles and national economies that rely on the biodiversity of coastal environments and inland rain forests. These problems are far more complex than regionally focused environmental assessments might imply. Understanding changes of climate and environment for better policy and appropriate development planning requires knowledge about the cultural and social diversity that over many generations have enabled Pacific Islanders to develop their distinct ways of life, and about the diversity of political systems in the region. On this background, and in response to the European Commission’s Framework Programme/SSH call “Climate Change Uncertainties: Policymaking for the Pacific Front” in 2012, the ECOPAS consortium was formed to organize the collective expertise of the major research centres of Pacific studies in Europe and in the Pacific Islands region. This dedicated mobilization of an unparalleled range of multidisciplinary research resources in the social sciences, humanities and environmental studies contributed a platform for knowledge based dialogue on the present-day and future challenges faced by the Pacific region. Through the simultaneous development of channels for communication with policy makers in Europe and the Pacific, ECOPAS offered a new approach to bringing original research in dialogue with policy in fields such as sustainable development and climate change. Through a strong emphasis on the social and cultural dimensions of challenges to local life-ways, nationhood and regional relations in the Pacific, ECOPAS restored human existence and social creativity to the understanding of climate change, and sought to bring the perspectives of Pacific peoples themselves to the centre of global debates. While the emphasis of the ECOPAS Work Programme was on developing a long-term strategy for SSH research on the Pacific region, strong links were also forged with climate research in the natural sciences.