Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 1017–1028 | Cite as

Social and cultural issues raised by climate change in Pacific Island countries: an overview

  • Tony WeirEmail author
  • Liz Dovey
  • Dan Orcherton
Original Article


Climate-related disasters such as tropical cyclones, floods and droughts are not new to Pacific Islanders, who have developed customary or ‘traditional’ practices to enable communities to adapt and recover from such hazards. Some of these practices have been degraded and some assisted by modernisation. Through their effects on the island environment, these hazards have a range of socio-economic impacts on food (fisheries and crops) and water supply, tourism, and coastal buildings and infrastructure. The varied impacts of climate change not only exacerbate those hazards but also raise new threats, such as sea level rise and ocean acidification, that have no precedent in the past 500 years, and for which there are therefore no traditional adaptations, although Pacific innate ingenuity and resilience remains strong. These issues are particularly acute for the low-lying atoll countries whose continued existence is threatened by sea level rise, but also affect those that live on higher islands in coastal settlements, where most of their population is concentrated. Climate change thus sharpens social and cultural issues of equity (reflecting disparities in location, income, education, gender, health and age), made even more acute by increased levels of voluntary or forced migration within, and even more so beyond, island country boundaries. Consequently, many islanders see climate change as a moral challenge to the richer countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions that are causing the problem.


Climate change Pacific Islands Small islands Social impacts Adaptation 



This paper draws heavily on material TW and DO have used for teaching at the University of the South Pacific that LD has used for scholarship and teaching at SPREP and at the Australian National University, and on various presentations made by all the authors over the years, particularly those given by TW to the Pacific Youth Festival in 2009 and to the KLIMA2012 online conference, which was subsequently published in a Springer book (Weir and Orcherton 2013). We thank students and festival participants and an anonymous referee of KLIMA2012 for their helpful feedback to an earlier version. We also acknowledge the comments from two anonymous referees for Regional Environmental Change and thank those who have given us permission to use their photographs, notably NTNK Video of Kiribati and Dr. Mike Gosling.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 96 kb)
10113_2016_1012_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (808 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 808 kb)
10113_2016_1012_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (79 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (PDF 78 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fenner School of Environment and SocietyAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Sustainable Technology and DevelopmentFiji National UniversityNabuaFiji

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