Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 221–235 | Cite as

Beyond the core: community governance for climate-change adaptation in peripheral parts of Pacific Island Countries

  • Patrick D. NunnEmail author
  • William Aalbersberg
  • Shalini Lata
  • Marion Gwilliam
Original Article


Pacific Island Countries are highly exposed to climate change. Most impact studies have focused on the most densely populated core areas where top-down governance is most effective. In contrast, this research looks at peripheral (rural/outer-island) communities where long-established systems of environmental governance exist that contrast markedly with those which governments and their donor partners in this region favour. Peripheral communities in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, and Vanuatu were studied. Traditional systems of environmental governance are described, and three common barriers to effective and sustainable climate-change adaptation identified. The first is lack of awareness among key community decision makers about climate change and associated environmental sustainability that could be lessened by targeted awareness raising. The second is the inappropriateness of traditional decision-making structures for dealing with both the complexity and pace of climate-driven environmental changes. The third is the short-term views of resource management and sustainability held by many community decision makers. Despite 30 years of assistance, there has been negligible effective and sustainable adaptation for climate change in peripheral parts of Pacific Island Countries, something that is explicable by both the ineffectiveness of top-down approaches in such places as well as a lack of attention to the nature and the context of adaptation communications. It is timely for interventions to be made at community level where the greatest disconnect lies between the science and stakeholder awareness of climate change.


Climate change Pacific islands Community governance Adaptation Sustainability Peripheral areas 



The study on which this work is based was funded by the Asia–Pacific Network for Global Change (APN) through CAPaBLE grant CBA2007-03NSY. Interviews in the Cook Islands were carried out by Miimetua Manuela and Nimerota Jim Brown, in Fiji by Jokim Kitolelei and Duncan Williams, in Kiribati by Elaine Bwebwe and Tiene Tooki, and in Vanuatu by Christy Haruel and Ann Tosiro. Comments by Don Forbes and an anonymous reviewer considerably improved the original manuscript.


  1. Aalbersberg W, Tawake A, Parras T (2005) Village by village: recovering Fiji’s coastal fisheries, World Resources 2005: the wealth of the poor: managing ecosystems to fight poverty. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC, pp 144–152Google Scholar
  2. Alley R (1999) The South Pacific’s environmental policy tensions. Public Adm Dev 19:137–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barnett J (2007) Food security and climate change in the South Pacific. Pac Ecol 14:32–36Google Scholar
  4. Barnett J (2011) Dangerous climate change in the Pacific Islands: food production and food security. Reg Environ Change 11:229–237CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barnett J, Adger WN (2003) Climate dangers and atoll countries. Clim Change 61(3):321–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barnett J, Campbell J (2010) Climate change and small island states: power. Knowledge and the South Pacific, EarthscanGoogle Scholar
  7. Borovnik M (2006) Working overseas: seafarers’ remittances and their distribution in Kiribati. Asia Pacific Viewpoint 47:151–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Byg A, Salick J (2009) Local perspectives on a global phenomenon—climate change in Eastern Tibetan villages. Global Environ Change 19(2):156–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chowdhury MR, Chu P-S, Zhao X, Schroeder T, Marra J (2010) Sea level extremes in the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands—a coastal hazard scenario to aid in decision analyses. J Coastal Conserv 14(1):53–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Connell J (2010) Pacific islands in the global economy: paradoxes of migration and culture. Singap J Trop Geogr 31(1):115–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dickinson WR (2009) Pacific atoll living: how long already and until when. GSA Today 19(3):4–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Donner SD (2007) Domain of the gods: an editorial essay. Clim Change 85(3–4):231–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. FAO (2008) Climate change and food security in Pacific Island Countries. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, RomeGoogle Scholar
  14. France P (1969) The charter of the land: custom and colonization in Fiji. Oxford University Press, MelbourneGoogle Scholar
  15. Galipaud J-C (2002) Under the volcano: Ni-Vanuatu and their environment. In: Torrence R, Grattan J (eds) Natural disasters and cultural change. Routledge, London, pp 162–171Google Scholar
  16. Hassall G (2008) Good governance and political developments in the Pacific: can existing concepts and institutions deliver security? In: Kennedy G (ed) Models of regional governance for pacific island states: the future architecture of pacific regionalism. University of Canterbury Press, Christchurch, pp 211–216Google Scholar
  17. Hook S (2009) Institutional reform and state capacity in the South Pacific. Pac Econ Bull 24(2):155–167Google Scholar
  18. Hung H-c et al (2011) The first settlement of remote Oceania: the Philippines to the Marianas. Antiquity 85:909–926Google Scholar
  19. Hviding E, Bayliss-Smith TP (2000) Islands of Rainforest: agroforestry, logging and eco-tourism in Solomon Islands. Ashgate, AldershotGoogle Scholar
  20. Iati I (2008) The potential of civil society in climate change adaptation strategies. Political Sci 60(1):19–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Johannes RE (2002) The renaissance of community-based marine resource management in Oceania. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 33:317–340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lane MB, McDonald G (2005) Community-based environmental planning: operational dilemmas, planning principles and possible remedies. J Environ Plan Manage 48:709–731CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lata S, Nunn P (2012) Misperceptions of climate-change risk as barriers to climate-change adaptation: a case study from the Rewa Delta, Fiji. Clim Change 110:169–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Marsters E, Lewis N, Friesen W (2006) Pacific flows: the fluidity of remittances in the Cook Islands. Asia-Pacific Viewpoint 47:31–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mataki M, Koshy K, Nair V (2007) Top-down, bottom-up: mainstreaming adaptation in Pacific Island townships. In: Leary N et al (eds) Climate change and adaptation. Earthscan, London, pp 264–278Google Scholar
  26. McGregor A, Bourke RM, Manley M, Tubuna S, Deo R (2009) Pacific island food security: situation, challenges and opportunities. Pacific Econ Bull 24:24–42Google Scholar
  27. Mercer J, Dominey-Howes D, Kelman I, Lloyd K (2007) The potential for combining indigenous and western knowledge in reducing vulnerability to environmental hazards in small island developing states. Environ Hazards 7(4):245–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mimura N et al (2007) Small islands. In: Parry ML, Canziani OF, Palutikof JP, van der Linden PJ, Hanson CE (eds) Climate change 2007: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Contribution of working group II to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 687–716Google Scholar
  29. Morrison J, Geraghty P, Crowl L (eds) (1994) Science of Pacific Island peoples, vol 1. Ocean and Coastal Studies. Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific, SuvaGoogle Scholar
  30. Mortreux C, Barnett J (2009) Climate change, migration and adaptation in Funafuti, Tuvalu. Global Environ Change 19(1):105–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Nunn PD (2000) Coastal changes over the past 200 years around Ovalau and Moturiki Islands, Fiji: implications for coastal zone management. Aust Geogr 31(1):21–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Nunn PD (2007) Climate, environment and society in the Pacific during the Last Millennium. Developments in Earth & Environmental Sciences 6. Elsevier, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Boston, MA, xiv, p 302Google Scholar
  33. Nunn PD (2008) Understanding environmental decisionmaking in the rural Pacific Islands: final report for APN CAPaBLE Project CBA2007-03NSY, Asia-Pacific Network (APN). Kobe, JapanGoogle Scholar
  34. Nunn PD (2009a) Responding to the challenges of climate change in the Pacific Islands: management and technological imperatives. Climate Research 40(2–3):211–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nunn PD (2009b) Vanished Islands and hidden continents of the Pacific. University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, xii, p 269Google Scholar
  36. Nunn PD (2010) Bridging the gulf between science and society: imperatives for minimizing societal disruption from climate change in the Pacific. In: Fukushi K, Hiramatsu A (eds) Adaptation and mitigation strategies for climate change. Springer, Berlin, pp 233–248Google Scholar
  37. Nunn PD (2012) Climate change and Pacific Island countries. UNDP, BangkokGoogle Scholar
  38. PIFS (2007) The Pacific Plan for strengthening regional cooperation and integration. Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, SuvaGoogle Scholar
  39. Roberts SM, Wright S, O’Neill P (2007) Good governance in the Pacific? Ambivalence and possibility. Geoforum 38(5):967–984CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Robinson EJZ, Kumar AM, Albers HJ (2010) Protecting developing countries’ forests: enforcement in theory and practice. J Nat Resourc Policy Res 2(1):25–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Schandl H, Collins K, Heyenga S, West J (2011) Sustainability assessment of selected countries in the Pacific Islands. CSIRO-AusAID Research for Development Alliance, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  42. Schwarz A-M et al (2011) Vulnerability and resilience of remote rural communities to shocks and global changes: empirical analysis from Solomon Islands. Global Environ Change 21(3):1128–1140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Solomon SM, Forbes DL (1999) Coastal hazards and associated management issues on South Pacific Islands. Ocean Coast Manag 42:523–554CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Storey D, Hunter S (2010) Kiribati: an environmental ‘perfect storm’. Aust Geogr 41(2):167–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Terry JP, Khatri K (2009) People, pigs and pollution—experiences with applying participatory learning and action (PLA) methodology to identify problems of pig-waste management at the village level in Fiji. J Cleaner Prod 17:1393–1400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Thaman RR (1982) Deterioration of traditional food systems, increasing malnutrition and food dependency in the Pacific Islands. J Food Nutr 39:109–125Google Scholar
  47. Thomas FR (2002) Self-reliance in Kiribati: contrasting views of agricultural and fisheries production. Geogr J 168:163–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Tisdell C (2008) Global warming and the future of Pacific Island countries. Int J Soc Econ 35(12):889–903CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Turner R et al (2007) Declining reliance on marine resources in remote South Pacific societies: ecological versus socio-economic drivers. Coral Reefs 26(4):997–1008CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. UNISDR (2009) Risk and poverty in a changing climate: UNISDR global assessment on disaster risk reduction. United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Secretariat, p 207Google Scholar
  51. van Aalst MK, Cannon T, Burton I (2008) Community level adaptation to climate change: the potential role of participatory community risk assessment. Global Environ Change 18(1):165–179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Veitayaki J, Tawake A, Aalbersberg W, Rupeni E, Tabunakawai K (2003) Mainstreaming resource conservation: the Fiji locally-managed marine area network and national policy development. In: Jaireth H, Smyth D (eds) Innovative governance, indigenous people. Local communities and protected areas. Ane Books, New Delhi, pp 105–124Google Scholar
  53. Webb AP, Kench PS (2010) The dynamic response of reef islands to sea-level rise: evidence from multi-decadal analysis of island change in the Central Pacific. Global Planet Change 72(3):234–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Woodroffe CD (2008) Reef-island topography and the vulnerability of atolls to sea-level rise. Global Planet Change 62(1–2):77–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick D. Nunn
    • 1
    Email author
  • William Aalbersberg
    • 2
  • Shalini Lata
    • 1
  • Marion Gwilliam
    • 3
  1. 1.University of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  2. 2.University of the South PacificSuvaFiji
  3. 3.Secrétariat de RAMSARGlandSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations