“We’re not Refugees, We’ll Stay Here Until We Die!”—Climate Change Adaptation and Migration Experiences Gathered from the Tulun and Nissan Atolls of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea

  • Johannes LuetzEmail author
  • Peni Hausia Havea
Part of the Climate Change Management book series (CCM)


Atoll island communities are naturally vulnerable to flooding hazards such as king tides, storm surges and overtopping, among others. Climate change can be expected to catalyse the susceptibility to flooding through extreme weather events, sea level rise (SLR) and other climate related pressures. Further, population growth in coastal proximity can exacerbate vulnerabilities by degrading ecosystems such as mangroves and coral reefs that island communities tend to rely on for protection. The net effect: More and more people are congregating in a high-risk zone for floods and storms, but are less and less protected from them. Conventional adaptation wisdom suggests three responses: (1) plan a managed retreat (e.g., move inland); (2) accommodate the changes (e.g., build stilt houses); (3) resist the intrusion (e.g., build sea walls). On the Carteret Islands of Bougainville/Papua New Guinea (PNG), also known as the Tulun or Kilinailau Atoll, none of these adaptation measures have so far enabled the islanders to adapt in situ to mounting people and sea level pressures, resulting in both ad hoc and planned out-migration responses. Drawing on pilot research conducted on the Tulun and Nissan Atolls of Bougainville/PNG, this paper examines the linkages between climate change and human movement. It extends previous research by expressly inviting the grassroots perspectives of atoll communities of origin and mainland communities of destination in Tinputz and Buka. The research develops recommendations in areas of education, livelihood security, government planning and countering misinformation. Experiences and lessons gathered in this paper will be useful for both policy and practice serving the cause of climate change adaptation in Pacific island communities. Working towards a better understanding of climate change related vulnerabilities in coastal areas will also enable better adaptation responses.


Bougainville Papua New Guinea Carteret Islands Kilinailau Tulun Atoll Nissan Atoll Climate change Adaptation Migration Displacement Policy Climate change refugees 



The authors wish to thank Kirsty Andersen for her copy-editorial support, Karen du Plessis for assistance with data analysis, John Connell for constructive comments, and Boniface Wadari for his research assistance in Bougainville. Grateful acknowledgment for relevant Ph.D. research support is also made to John Merson, Eileen Pittaway, Curt von Boguslawski, Richard Rumsey, Geoff Shepherd, and to the international development organisation World Vision. Finally, the authors wish to thank the people of Bougainville Region for generously sharing their stories, struggles, experiences and perspectives.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CHC Higher EducationBrisbane, CarindaleAustralia
  2. 2.Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PaCE-SD), The University of the South Pacific, Laucala CampusSuvaFiji
  3. 3.University of New South Wales (UNSW)SydneyAustralia

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