Climate Change in Tonga: Risk Perception and Behavioral Adaptation

  • David N. SattlerEmail author
  • Uili Lousi
  • James M. Graham
  • Viliami Latu
  • James Johnson
  • Siosaia Langitoto Helu
Part of the Climate Change Management book series (CCM)


This chapter develops a model of climate change risk perception and behavioral intention to take action to prevent climate change in the Kingdom of Tonga. The project was conducted in the wake of Cyclone Gita, one of the strongest cyclones to strike Tonga in recorded history. Climate change may have increased the strength of Cyclone Gita. We examined how resource loss as a result of the storm, coping, community norms, value orientation, and posttraumatic stress influence climate change risk perception and behavioral intention to prevent climate change. The project was guided by climate change models we developed after Cyclone Winston made landfall in Fiji. The participants were 230 people (49% men, 51% women) in communities in Tonga (age: M = 42, SD = 15.5). They completed assessment instruments measuring resource loss as a result of the cyclone, coping, community norms regarding climate change, personal values, posttraumatic stress, climate change risk perceptions, behavioral intention to prevent climate change, and demographics. Two models with similar paths predicated climate change risk perceptions and behavioral intention to prevent climate change. In one path, loss of resources as a result of Cyclone Gita was associated with coping, and coping was associated with climate change risk perceptions. In a second path, loss of resources as a result of Cyclone Gita was associated with posttraumatic stress, and posttraumatic stress was associated with posttraumatic growth. An additional analysis examined personal values and community norms. In one path, personal values were directly associated with behavioral intention to take action to prevent climate change. In a second path, coping mediated resource loss as a result of Cyclone Gita, community norms, and personal values. The findings extend our climate change model developed in Fiji and support and extend van der Linden’s (J Environ Psychol 41:112–124, 2015) climate change risk perception model. We discuss implications of the model for climate change education campaigns.


Climate change Risk perception Behavioral adaptation Posttraumatic growth Tonga Cyclone Gita South Pacific Climate change model 



This project was supported by funding from the Department of Psychology and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at Western Washington University. We thank Sione Fulivai, Folauhola Helu, Lau’aitu Lavulo, Saia Tahaafe, and Mehnaaz Sattler for their invaluable assistance, and extend our gratitude to the participants and communities in Tonga for participating in this project.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • David N. Sattler
    • 1
    Email author
  • Uili Lousi
    • 2
  • James M. Graham
    • 1
  • Viliami Latu
    • 3
  • James Johnson
    • 4
  • Siosaia Langitoto Helu
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyWestern Washington UniversityBellinghamUSA
  2. 2.OHAI FoundationNuku‘AlofaTonga
  3. 3.Edwards LawNuku‘AlofaTonga
  4. 4.School of Social SciencesUniversity of the South PacificSuvaFiji
  5. 5.‘Atenisi Institute and Pacific Resilience Program TongaNuku‘AlofaTonga

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