Adaptation to Climate Change in the Pacific Islands: Theory, Dreams, Practice and Reality

  • Jenny Bryant-Tokalau
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology book series (PSDA)


In this chapter cases are presented on how people respond to climate change. The modern artificial island response of donors is presented, but with the reminder that Pacific Islanders have themselves long known about reclaiming and building up land in order to mitigate against climate change. The ways that people respond to extreme weather such as in cyclones are also illustrated with examples of traditional methods of preparedness such as storage and planting and recognizing signs of nature. Relocation, long practised by Pacific peoples, is also discussed, along with some of the pitfalls of moving into other countries and communities.


Adaptation Artificial islands Relocation Land purchases 


  1. Australian Bureau of Meteorology & CSIRO. (2011). Climate Change in the Pacific: Scientific Assessment and New Research. Volume 2: Country Reports.Google Scholar
  2. Ayres, W. S. (1983). Archaeology at Nan Madol, Pohnpei. Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association. Retrieved August 19, 2010, from
  3. Barnett, J., & Campbell, J. (2010). Climate Change and Small Island States: Power, Knowledge and the South Pacific. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  4. Bernard, K., & Cook, S. (2014). Luxury Tourism Investment and Flood-Risk: Case Study on Unsustainable Development in Denarau Island Resort in Fiji. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction.
  5. Bettencourt, S., Croad, R., Freeman, P., Hay, J., Jones, R., King, P., Lal, P., Mearns, A., Miller, G., Pswarayl-Riddihough, I., Simpson, A., Teuataloo, N., Trotz, U., & Van Aalst, M. (2006). Not If But When: Adapting to Natural Hazards in the Pacific Island Regions. Washington, DC: Policy Note, World Bank.Google Scholar
  6. Biribo, N., & Woodroffe, C. (2013). Historical Area and Shoreline Change of Reef Islands Around Tarawa Atoll, Kiribati. Sustainability Science, 8(3), 345–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bryant-Tokalau, J. (2008). From Summitry to Panarchy: Issues of Global, Regional and Indigenous Environmental Governance in the Pacific. Borderlands e-Journal: New Spaces in the Humanities, 7(3). Certainty in the Coming Community J. Mummery and V. Devadas (eds.).Google Scholar
  8. Bryant-Tokalau, J. (2011). Artificial and Recycled Islands in the Pacific: Myths and Mythology of “Plastic Fantastic”. The Journal of the Polynesian Society, 120(1), 71–86.Google Scholar
  9. Bryant-Tokalau, J. (2014b, December 3). Indigenous Responses to Environmental Challenges: Artificial Islands and the Challenges of Relocation. Paper presented session, ‘Climate Change, Disasters and Pacific Agency’, Pacific History Conference, Lalan Chalan Tala Ara, Taipei, Taiwan.Google Scholar
  10. Campbell, J. (2014). Climate-Change Migration in the Pacific. The Contemporary Pacific, 26(1), 1–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Campbell, J., & Bedford, R. (2014). Migration and Climate Change in Oceania. Global Migration Issues, 2, 177–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Caritas. (2014). Small Yet Strong: Voices from Oceania on the Environment. Wellington: Caritas Aotearoa.Google Scholar
  13. Connell, J. (2010). Pacific Islands in the Global Economy: Paradoxes of Migration and Culture. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 31, 115–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Connell, J. (2012). Population Resettlement in the Pacific: Lessons from a Hazardous History? Australian Geographer, 43(2), 127–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Connell, J. (2013). Soothing Breezes? Island Perspectives on Climate Change and Migration. Australian Geographer, 44(4), 465–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. D’Arcy, P. (2006). The People of the Sea: Environment, Identity, and History in Oceania. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.Google Scholar
  17. Donner, S. D. (2015). Climate Change: Fantasy Island. Scientific American, 24(1), 50–57.Google Scholar
  18. Garnaut, R. (2008). The Garnaut Climate Change Review: Final Report. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Government of Kiribati. (2013). Second Communication Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Environment & Conservation Division, with Assistance of Climate Change Study Team Ministry of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development.Google Scholar
  20. Guo, P.-Y. (2001). Landscape, History and Migration Among the Langalanga, Solomon Islands. PhD dissertation in Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh.Google Scholar
  21. Hau’ofa, E. (1994, Spring). Our Sea of Islands. The Contemporary Pacific, 6(1), 148–161.Google Scholar
  22. Hermann, E., & Kempf, W. (2017). Climate Change and the Imagining of Migration: Emerging Discourses on Kiribati’s Land Purchase in Fiji. The Contemporary Pacific, 29(2), 232–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hviding, E. (1998). Contextual Flexibility: Present Status and Future of Customary Marine Tenure in Solomon Islands. Ocean and Coastal Management, 40, 253–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ivens, W. G. (1930). The Island Builders of the Pacific: How and Why the People of Mala Construct Their Artificial Islands, the Antiquity & Doubtful Origin of the Practice, with a Description of the Social Organisation, Magic, & Religion of the Inhabitants. London: Seeley, Service & Co.Google Scholar
  25. Kardol, R. (1999). Proposed Inhabited Artificial Islands in International Waters: International Law Analysis in Regards to Resource Use, Law of the Sea and Norms of Self-Determination and State Recognition. Master’s thesis at Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
  26. Korauaba, T. (2012). Media and the Politics of Climate Change in Kiribati: A Case Study on Journalism in a “Disappearing Nation”. Master of Communication dissertation, Auckland University of Technology.Google Scholar
  27. Löfgren, O. (2007). Island Magic and the Making of a Transnational Region. Geographical Review, 97(2), 244–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Morrison, K. (2017). The Role of Traditional Knowledge to Frame Understanding of Migration as Adaptation to the “Slow Disaster” of Sea Level Rise in the Pacific. In K. Sudmeier-Rieux et al. (Eds.), Identifying Emerging Issues in Disaster Risk Reduction, Migration, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (pp. 249–266). Cham: Springer International Publishing. Scholar
  29. Nunn, P. D. (1994). Oceanic Islands. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  30. Nunn, P. D. (1999). Geomorphology. In M. Rapoport (Ed.), The Pacific Islands: Environment and Society (pp. 43–55). Honolulu: The Bess Press.Google Scholar
  31. Nunn, P. D. (2009a). Responses to the Challenges of Climate Change in the Pacific Islands: Management and Technological Imperatives. Climate Research, 40, 211–231. Inter-Research. Scholar
  32. Nunn, P. D. (2009b). Vanished Islands and Hidden Continents of the Pacific. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
  33. Nunn, P. D., & Britton, J. M. R. (2001). Human-Environment Relationships in the Pacific Islands Around A.D. 1300. Environment and History, 7, 3–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pala, C. (2014, August 21). The Nation that Bought a Back-Up Property. The Atlantic.Google Scholar
  35. Parsonson, G. (1966). Artificial Islands in Melanesia: The Role of Malaria in the Settlement of the Southwest Pacific. New Zealand Geographer, 22(1), 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rapoport, M. (Ed.). (1999). The Pacific Islands: Environment and Society. Honolulu: The Bess Press.Google Scholar
  37. Secretariat of the Pacific Community. (2015). Pocket Statistical Summary. Google Scholar
  38. Smith, R. (2013). Should They Stay or Should They Go? A Discourse Analysis of Factors Influencing Relocation Decisions Among the Outer Islands of Tuvalu and Kiribati. Journal of New Zealand and Pacific Studies, 1(1), 2339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. SOPAC. (2009). Relationship Between Natural Disasters and Poverty: A Fiji Case Study. SOPAC Miscellaneous Report 678. Prepared for UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Secretariat’s 2009 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Reduction.Google Scholar
  40. Tabe, T. (2014, December 3). The First Encounter: Reconceptualizing the Relocation of the Gilbertese Settlers Form Atolls in Micronesia to High Islands in Melanesia. Presentation to session, ‘Climate Change, Disasters and Pacific Agency’, Pacific History Conference, Lalan Chalan Tala Ara, Taipei, Taiwan.Google Scholar
  41. Tabe, T. (2016). Ngaira Kain Tari – We Are People of the Sea: A Study of the Gilbertese Resettlement to Solomon Islands. PhD dissertation, University of Bergen.Google Scholar
  42. Teaiwa, K. M. (2015). Consuming Ocean Island: Stories of People and Phosphate from Banaba. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Tong, A. (2016). ‘Charting Its Own Course’: A Paradigm Shift in Pacific Diplomacy. In G. Fry & S. Tarte (Eds.), The New Pacific Diplomacy (pp. 21–24). Canberra: ANU Press, Pacific Series.Google Scholar
  44. Van Veldhuizen, M. (2014). Regional Organisations and Climate Change Adaptation in Pacific Island Developing States: An Analysis of the Regional Institutional Framework for Climate Change Adaptation in the Pacific Small Island Developing States and Territories. M.Sc. dissertation in Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management, Erasmus Mundus, EC.Google Scholar
  45. Walter, R. K., & Hamilton, R. J. (2014). A Cultural Landscape Approach to Community-Based Conservation in Solomon Islands. Ecology and Society, 19(4), 41. Scholar
  46. Webb, A. P., & Kench, P. S. (2010). The Dynamic Response of Reef Islands to Sea-Level Rise: Evidence from Multi-Decadal Analysis of Island Change in the Central Pacific. Global and Planetary Change. Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jenny Bryant-Tokalau
    • 1
  1. 1.Te TumuUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations