Pacific Island People Confront Growing Climate Change Impacts

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Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

Climate change in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific Islands worsens inequities and threatens unique island ecosystems, cultural resources, human health, livelihoods, the built environment, and access to clean water and healthy food. These are among the findings of the U.S. National Climate Assessment. The assessment concludes that adaptation actions that center local and Indigenous Knowledge can improve the resilience of Pacific Island communities.

In December 2023, the Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5) was published and included a chapter on Hawaiʻi and the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands – the most up-to-date and comprehensive U.S. report to evaluate climate change risks, impacts, and responses. The assessment demonstrates that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit climate change impacts are underway in every U.S. region, including the Pacific Islands.

“Climate change continues to threaten things we care about,” said Dr. Abby Frazier, assistant professor at Clark University, and the chapter’s lead author. “The sooner we scale up action to curb the global threats from climate change, the better. Fortunately, cutting emissions or preparing for new extremes also creates immediate local benefits – improved health, a stronger economy, and more resilient communities.”

The chapter’s key takeaways for the region include:

  • Climate change impairs access to healthy food and water.
  • Climate change undermines human health.
  • Rising sea levels harm infrastructure and islands’ economies.
  • Responses help to safeguard tropical ecosystems and biodiversity.
  • Indigenous Peoples and their knowledge systems are central to the resilience of island communities amidst the changing climate.

About the Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5)

Mandated in the Global Change Research Act of 1990, the National Climate Assessment provides authoritative scientific information about climate change risks, impacts, and responses in the U.S. The NCA5 includes 32 chapters on physical science, national-level sectors (such as water, energy, agriculture, ecosystems, transportation, health, infrastructure, etc.), regional impacts in the U.S., and responses.

The Hawaiʻi and U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands chapter has 16 authors and 41 technical contributors and is backed by nearly 500 citations from published literature. Two Native Hawaiian women, Haunani Kāne and I, served as authors and are researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

The English version of this article was adapted for Ka Wai Ola by Malia Nobrega-Olivera from a press release collectively drafted by the authors of the NCA5 Chapter 30 Hawaiʻi and the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands. Nobrega-Olivera also provided the Hawaiian translation.

The full National Climate Assessment is published as an interactive website at nca2023.globalchange.gov and Chapter 30: Hawaiʻi and U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands at nca2023.globalchange.gov/chapter/30.