Climate Change

Small islands, whether located in the tropics or higher latitudes, have characteristics which make them especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, sea-level rise, and extreme events (very high confidence) ♦  Sea-level rise is expected to exacerbate inundation, storm surge, erosion and other coastal hazards, thus threatening vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities that support the livelihood of island communities (very high confidence). ♦  There is strong evidence that under most climate change scenarios, water resources in small islands are likely to be seriously compromised (very high confidence). ♦  It is very likely that subsistence and commercial agriculture on small islands will be adversely affected by climate change (high confidence). IPCC 4th Assessment Report, 2007

Vulnerability of Pacific Island Countries

Recent studies in the southern Pacific region show that the annual and seasonal ocean surface and island air temperatures have increased by 0.6 to 1.0 °C since 1910. Analyses of trends in extreme daily rainfall and temperature for the period 1961 to 2003 show significant increases in the annual number of hot days and warm nights, with significant decreases in the annual number of cool days and cold nights.

Long-term climate change is likely to occur in the Pacific islands region, and this is likely to increase the frequency and intensity of climate extremes such as tropical cyclones.

Sea-level rise, inundation, seawater intrusion into freshwater lenses, soil salinisation, and decline in water supply are very likely to adversely impact coastal agriculture. Away from the coast, changes in extremes (e.g., flooding and drought, cyclones) are likely to have a negative effect on agricultural production.

Drought caused by the El Niño effect in the Pacific is a serious and increasingly regular occurrence. Each El Niño event has resulted in water shortages and drought in American Samoa, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga. Drought often threaten food security in the Pacific islands. Most Pacific island countries depend on the agricultural sector for food, income and employment. However, the development of the agriculture sector is constrained by small land masses, limited arable lands, and declining soil fertility.

Increases in extreme events are virtually certain to affect the adaptation responses of forests on tropical islands, where regeneration is often slow, in the short term. In view of their small area, forests on many islands can easily be decimated by violent cyclones or storms.

The socio-economic changes and demands add further environmental stress especially in small Pacific Island Countries. Our Pacific Islands are highly sensitive to changes in water supply and demand, land use, land use practices, and demographic changes. Given the size of our island ecosystems the exploitation of a single resource cannot be seen in isolation.

Given in the table below are some examples of economic losses due to severe weather conditions

2009 (January)

Fiji - the “dry” Western side of the Island received over 45 cm of rain in a day (normally <25cm/month), most of the low lying areas in the country was underwater for days and in places experienced flood levels of up to 3-5 metres.

Agriculture and infrastructure was the hardest hit with loss of more than F$100million


In Tonga, the squash crop which had been producing 50% of the country’s exports by value was more than halved.

2005 (February to March)

Cook Islands, over a period of five weeks, saw five tropical cyclones, four of which were category 5 (Meena 02/02/05, Nancy 10/02/05, Olaf 14/0205, Percy 25/02/05 and Rae 04/03/05) devastated the islands causing widespread damage to infrastructure and property. The cost of the damage was initially assessed at (cost of recovery) USD5, 531,200.

2004 (January)

In Niue Cyclone Heta caused devastation to people, properties, government and industry, infrastructure, agriculture and the economy with an estimated damage cost of more than US$60 million (or NZ$89.1 million). The taro supply for the island was wiped out and primary forest areas shredded.


In Vanuatu, the most comprehensive assessment was conducted for Cyclone Ivy which estimated a total cost at US$12 million. Cyclone Ivy affected 50,000 people and one fatality, 90% of water resources, 70% of roads, 60% of health infrastructure, 112 schools and over 80% of food crops were damaged.


Fiji experienced severe flooding and losses from Cyclone Ami in key development sectors: housing, education, health, agriculture, tourism, sugar, business, infrastructure, telecommunications and power supply with an estimated cost of damage at FJ$104.4 million and over 70% of this damage was to the public sector. The cyclone also caused fourteen deaths.


In Tuvalu, even a short dry period of 2-3 weeks without rain can lead to water shortages. For instance in 1999, a severe drought (i.e. period without rain longer than 2-3 weeks) had forced the government to purchase a desalination plant from Japan (very expansive infrastructure) which now costs AU$30,000 per month to run given its intensive use of costly diesel fuel. This is deemed to be quite unsustainable and the long-term costs could be prohibitive.

1998 and 2007

FSM – in several islands in the states declared major drought emergencies due to food and water shortages. This followed from the El Niño condition moving into the Western Pacific where groundwater supplies dwindled to an alarming quantity.

Many schools and public facilities were without adequate water supplies. Rivers dried up and wells were dangerously low with increasing levels of salinity (Source: Micronesia: Drought - OCHA-01: 27-Mar-98, ref="")


In Papua New Guinea, the Australian government spent more than AUD$30 million delivering food aid to isolated areas of the highlands and low-lying islands affected by drought, with further losses in coffee production.

The drought and frost emergency damaged not only subsistence farming but also the production of cash crops such as coffee and cocoa. Most significantly for the national economy, some mines have had to close as the level of water has dropped in the rivers on which they depend for supplies and the transport of ore.