Communities & Cultures


Fishermen casting net at sunset in Guam. Photo ©David Burdick, 2006, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Climate change confronts Pacific Islands and their communities with enormous challenges that may affect every aspect of life. The close proximity of populations and structures to the ocean contributes to island communities’ vulnerability to climate change.  Island economies generally depend on local ecosystems and limited sources of revenue, so any external stresses from climate impacts hit particularly hard. Human health will be increasingly impacted by climate change through extreme events, heat-related illnesses, psychological stresses, and a possible increase in infectious disease. These climate impacts, on top of other socioeconomic and political motivations, may lead individuals or even entire communities to consider migrating to a new location.

While Pacific Island communities face these numerous and varied climate change challenges, isolation from the contiguous United States and from one another limits the exchange of information and hampers their participation in national, regional, and global decision-making processes.  But while the remote location of island communities has led to these difficulties, it has also resulted in the development of technological and cultural strategies for adapting to year-to-year variability in climate and to extreme events. In addition to  isolation, a range factors that vary widely across the region, including institutional, socioeconomic and cultural factors, also influence the ability for communities to adapt to climate change.

Ultimately, the changing climate poses serious consequences to the traditional lifestyles and cultures of indigenous communities in all Pacific Island sub-regions. U.S. decision makers and island governments and communities must work in partnership toward an informed and timely response to enhance resilience to the many changes already occurring and those yet to come.

Key Messages

Threats to the lifestyles of indigenous communities may include degradation of coastal artifacts and structures, reduced availability of traditional agroforestry and subsistence fisheries, and the loss of the land and marine base that supports Pacific Island cultures. These losses will make it difficult for Pacific Island communities to sustain their connection with a defined place and their unique set of customs, beliefs, and languages.

Mounting threats to food and water security, infrastructure, and public health and safety will lead to human migration from low islands to high islands and continental sites.

Content: Communities & Cultures

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