Improving Climate Resilience in the Seychelles: Evaluating the Impacts of Sea-Level Rise and Storm Surges on Seychelles’ ‘Critical Infrastructure’

Client Organization: 
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
Project Location : 
Mahé, Seychelles
Summary of Project Idea: 

Goals & Objectives: 

It is well recognized that coastal cities are particularly vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise due to their high population density and concentration of infrastructure in low-lying coastal areas.  In the case of the Indian Ocean island countries, less is known, however, about the impacts of storm surges and sea-level rise on these coastal areas. There is a need for more research and improved understanding of the projected impacts of climate change in Indian Ocean island countries to inform policies that aim to improve socio-economic and environmental resilience in coastal areas.

Climate change poses a serious threat to Seychelles’ socioeconomic development. There is a lack of data on the projected impacts of coastal flooding as a result of sea-level rise and increased incidence of storm surges on Seychelles’ critical infrastructure, the majority of which resides on the narrow coastal plains of the three main islands. This objective of this project is to target this information gap and produce a detailed risk assessment of the infrastructure at risk from these hazards in the aim of building resilience and reducing the vulnerability of the Seychelles with respect to climate change. 

Theoretical Justification, Social Benefit, or Significance: 

Introduction to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Nairobi Work Programme, and the Lima Adaptation Knowledge Initiative

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the foundation of the international political process to address climate change. The Convention Secretariat supports the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement through a range of activities, including substantive and organizational support to meetings of the Parties.

The Adaptation Programme leads the work related to addressing the adverse effects of climate change. The Impacts, Vulnerability and Risks (IVR) sub-programme consists of two work streams under the Adaptation Programme: the Nairobi work programme (NWP) and approaches to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change (L&D).

The NWP was established at COP11 (December 2005) in Nairobi, Kenya. Activities under the NWP includes engaging stakeholders through partnerships and catalysing the development, synthesis and dissemination of information and knowledge to inform and support adaptation policies and practices at the regional, national and subnational levels through a diverse range of modalities.

In support of the NWP’s evolving role as a knowledge hub on adaptation under the Convention, the Lima Adaptation Knowledge Initiative (LAKI), a collaborative effort by UN Environment and the UNFCCC secretariat, aims to remove knowledge barriers that impede the implementation and scaling up of adaptation action. The LAKI has already been implemented in 5 subregions: the Andean subregion, the Gulf Cooperation Council subregion, the Southern Africa subregion, the Hindu Kush Himalayan subregion and the Indian Ocean island countries. For more details, please click here.

In any subregion, the first stage of the LAKI process is to produce a scoping paper that identifies a list of knowledge gaps, insights into existing knowledge resources, and information regarding the organizations that are providing support to close adaptation knowledge gaps in the subregion. In addition to a literature review, this scoping paper is based on the inputs from experts who are working in the specific subregion. These inputs are gathered both prior to and during a priority-setting workshop where a range of stakeholders from various national, regional and international organizations are invited to discuss the preliminary scoping paper.

The priority-setting workshop for the Indian island countries took place on 20-22 October 2016 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The six Indian Ocean Island countries covered were the Comoros, Madagascar, the Maldives, Mauritius, the Seychelles and Sri Lanka. In consideration of the different challenges related to knowledge gaps faced by the smaller and larger Indian Ocean island countries, the top priority knowledge gaps were divided into two lists with 10 priority knowledge gaps identified for each set of countries (the larger countries being Madagascar and Sri Lanka and the smaller countries being the Comoros, Maldives and Seychelles). For more details on the participants and knowledge gaps identified, please read the workshop report here.

Overview of the Seychelles

More than 90% of the Seychelles’ population, the seat of Government and administrative agencies and all economic activities are located on the narrow coastal plateau of Mahe Island, at an average elevation of 2m above sea level. Projected sea level rise would place all of these in jeopardy and severely undermine the country’s capacity to manage environmental issues.

Coastal flooding, especially during spring tides and heavy rainfall, has become common in Seychelles. In May 2007, very high tides combined with heavy waves resulted in flooding up to 50m inland - causing damage to roads and public infrastructure. Hazard scenarios for the Mahe region indicate that ‘24 Hours Probable Maximum Rainfall’ exceeding 200 mm have a return period of at least 10 years. Over the period 2002-2006, there were five instances at which sea level anomaly exceeded +10 cm. These incidences, combined with extreme storm events, caused significant coastal damages - particularly to roads and other coastal infrastructure.

The Seychelles’ Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), developed in 2015 for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, listed the ‘critical infrastructure’ of the Seychelles as one of its specific vulnerabilities to climate change. ‘Critical infrastructure’ refers to roads, ports, government buildings, energy generation, water distribution and sewerage systems - the vast majority of which are located in low-lying coastal zones vulnerable to both sea-level rise and storm surges. Moving towards the longer-term adaptation goal, one of the main actions listed in the INDC up to and beyond 2030 is to increase resilience and reduce vulnerability of livelihoods and island life with respect to critical infrastructure. Building capacity in managing the country’s critical infrastructure requires clear linkages between responsible Government entities, a responsive education and awareness programme targeting infrastructure users, supported by appropriate research, and followed by reflexive monitoring.

The total amount that the Seychelles’ Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) allocates to the adaptation of critical infrastructure is $70 million (5% GDP). Considering that most of Seychelles’ critical infrastructure is on the shore, including the main roads, the main cities, the airport, the ports, the power and sewerage plants, and most hospitals and schools - the cost of climate-proofing this infrastructure could be several orders of magnitude greater. A more precise assessment of this cost, based on past events, climate modelling, and cost benefit analysis, would be valuable for estimating the underlying financing gap.

As such, there is an urgent need in the Seychelles for a thorough and accurate analysis of the projected impacts of climate change, specifically sea-level rise and storm surges, on its critical infrastructure. The main task for the students will be to complete a risk assessment of these projected impacts on Seychelles’ critical infrastructure. Students should also include a short list of recommendations of the possible adaptation actions that can be taken to increase the resilience of specific coastal infrastructure. This will be of significant use in guiding Seychelles-specific climate change and adaptation strategies and improving the implementation process of adaptation actions.

Regarding the scale of the proposed research, students may be expected to be involved in the research throughout the 16-month period. An example of a potential timeline of the research may be found below:

Year One:

  • September December: Project Proposal Submission (Dec 1st: Final proposal deadline)
  • December – January: Students review proposals, identify preferred projects
  • January – March: Master’s Project Planning Course (Mid-Jan: Client Fair; Feb: teams form)
  • March – April: Clients, Project Teams finalize project proposal and work plans
  • May – August: Project Team Research – Client/Team determine length and time of field work (End of April: Final work plan and research time line)
    • May – June: Extensive literature review
    • June: Analysis of stakeholders. Introduce contacts on the ground – partner organization (second client organization working in the Seychelles – see proposed list on p1)
    • June - July: Arrange fieldwork – students apply for funding from the SEAS, arrangement of housing, arrange interviews/focus groups
    • July - August: Conduct fieldwork

Year Two:

  • Fall & Winter terms: Data analysis, project draft review
    • September – December: Analysis of findings, qualitative/quantitative analysis
    • January – March: Produce draft risk assessment and list of recommendations
    • March: Edit & produce final report
    • April: Presentation of results

There may also be potential for student to present their findings at the international climate conference held in Bonn, Germany, in May  during the meeting of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), and/or at the Conference of the Parties (COP), usually held November in a different location each year.

Integrative Approach:

This is a complex project and involves an in-depth understanding of a wide range of topics from climate change to sustainable development. The proposed research will draw on a wide range of skills from different students. We envision that this project will involve team members interested in sustainability, town planning, disaster risk management, environmental policy and governance, and environmental communications – to name but a few. The range of research methodologies included in this research project will allow students to build on both their quantitative and qualitative data analysis skills. In addition, it will provide students with a thorough appreciation of the need for climate policy and practical adaptation actions that are rooted in a sound scientific, technical and socio-economic basis, taking into account current and future climate change and variability.

The proposed research will include direct communication with a range of stakeholders – from government, business, NGOs and communities. Students will work under the guidance of the UNFCCC Secretariat – the intergovernmental organization supporting international climate change negotiations and the implementation of the infamous Paris Agreement. In addition, students will also be partnered with  one or several  secondary client organisations (see possible list on p1) who are working directly on climate change issues in the Seychelles. This would allow the students to work directly with environmental professionals, governmental officials and/or climate scientists in an integrative process to help solve a real management issue and achieve the projects goals outlined in this proposal.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Environmental Policy and Planning
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Environmental Informatics
Sustainable Systems
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Avik Basu
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Harold Rice 
  • Brett Rolf 
  • Jacob Rumschlag 
  • Yuhan Wang 
  • Daniel Xie 
Project Status: 
In Progress