State Profile

Population Adjusted GDP  GDP per capita Major income sources Geography Legal Status
1,419,560 (2014 est.) $75.095 Billion
(2013 est.)
(2013 est.)
Tourism, US military 8 main islands (7 inhabited); the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (a Marine National Monument) include 9 islands and numerous atolls U.S. State (since 1959)

Hawai‘i is the largest aggregate of land in the U.S. Affiliated Pacific Islands region. The state encompasses 8 main Hawaiian Islands as well as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (Papahānaumokuākea),which are designated a Marine National Monument.

The first permanent settlers of Hawai‘i sailed north from the Marquesas, reaching the Hawaiian Islands approximately 1,200 years ago. Traditional Hawaiian society was stratified into classes ruled by minor chiefs, and daily activities were centered on a land unit known as the ahupuaʻa, which ran from the mountains to the sea. The first recorded European contact with the Hawaiian Islands was in 1778, with the arrival of James Cook. After 1810, all the inhabited islands were conquered by a single ruler, King Kamehameha the Great, who established the House of Kamehameha, a dynasty that ruled the kingdom until 1872. Hawai‘i was an independent nation, recognized by many major world powers, however U.S. interests in sugar production in the islands lead to a U.S.-supported overthrow of the kingdom in 1893. The U.S. annexed Hawai‘i in 1898 through a unilateral Act of Congress, naming it the Territory of Hawai‘i in 1898. Hawai‘i became a U.S. state in 1959, at which point Hawai‘i residents gained full U.S. voting rights.Tourism is a leading source of income for the state. In 2014, 8.3 million people visited Hawai‘i. A large U.S. military presence means that the defense sector is also a large source of income. Today Hawai‘i is one of the fastest growing U.S. states.This growth has strained the environment and natural resources, and has worsened conflicts, for example, between commercial and traditional and customary uses of water.

View of Waikīkī from Diamondhead. Photo courtesy of Victoria Keener.

View of Waikīkī from Diamondhead. Photo courtesy of Victoria Keener.

Key Climate-Related Stressors and Issues

Hawai‘i has warmed rapidly since the 1970s, indicating the increased influence of global warming on its climate. Hawai‘i is experiencing warmer oceans, leading to increased coral bleaching and coral disease outbreaks. The distribution of tuna fisheries is changing and in the long term open ocean fisheries are expected to decline.  Freshwater supplies will become more limited, and drought risk is increasing. Coastal erosion and periodic coastal flooding are already causing problems in the state, and these hazards will increase as sea level continues to rise.

Hawai‘i has unique ecosystems, with native species found nowhere else in the world.  Many of Hawai‘i’s native birds are threatened by rising temperatures that enable mosquitos to carry diseases such as avian malaria to higher elevations. Pacific Ocean sea birds that depend on low-lying atolls are likewise vulnerable. Overall, the risk of extirpations (local extinctions) is expected to increase.

Rising sea levels will heighten the threat to coastal assets and infrastructure, including freshwater aquifers, roads and bridges, harbor operations, wastewater systems, coral reefs and coastal ecosystems, and cultural resources.

Hawai‘i faces economic impacts from losses in tourism, the states’ largest sector, comprising 26% of the economy.

Adaptive Capacities

Hawai‘i has been host to numerous initiatives aimed at studying climate change and planning for its impacts. Chief among these efforts are:

  • The Hawai‘i Climate Change Adaptation Initiative (Act 83, 2014), which established an Interagency Climate Adaptation Committee (ICAC), including representatives from all of the counties as well as from numerous state agencies. Act 83 also vested the Office of Planning with the authority to coordinate the development of climate adaptation plans and policy recommendations for the State.
  • The establishment of Climate Change Adaptation Priority Guidelines in the Hawai‘i State Planning Act (Act 286, 2012).
  • The appointment of the Governor of Hawai‘i to President Barak Obama’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience (2013).

In addition to these statewide policy actions toward climate change adaptation in Hawai‘i, individual state and local agencies, as well as several non-governmental organizations, have begun initiatives to prepare for and build resilience in the face of the impacts of climate change on their respective sectors.


The preceding text is excerpted and abridged from the following sources:

Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, 2014 Annual Visitor Research Report, Honolulu, Hawai‘i, 2015, available at http://dbedt.hawaii.gov/visitor/visitor-research/.

State of Hawai‘i Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, State of Hawai‘i Data Book 2014, Honolulu, Hawai‘i, 2014, available at  http://dbedt.hawaii.gov/economic/databook/.

Wager, K. (2012) “Climate Change Law and Policy in Hawai‘i, Briefing Sheet,” Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy, available at http://seagrant.noaa.gov/Portals/0/Documents/what_we_do/toolkit/sm_climatechangelawandpolicy_1.pdf

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