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climate indicators graphic on islands
Climate indicators graphic

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, released by the Biden Administration which involved five University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa researchers. The assessment concluded that adaptation actions centered on local and Indigenous knowledge can improve the resilience of Pacific Island communities.

UH Mānoa researchers involved in this work include: Haunani Kane, Gina Malia Nobrega, Kirsten Oleson, Chris Shuler, Richard Wallsgrove, Makena Coffman and several other UH affiliates, including Chapter Lead Abby Frazier.

The chapter on Hawaiʻi and the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands appears in the Fifth National Climate Assessment, 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 Frazier, a UH affiliate faculty member, an assistant professor at Clark University, and the chapter’s lead author. “As the devastating hurricane-fueled wildfires on Maui and Typhoon Mawar in Guam made clear, when communities are already hurting from stressors like COVID-19, extreme weather can multiply harms. The sooner we scale up global action to curb 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. Increasing temperatures, altered rainfall, flooding, pollution and fisheries decline will further affect food and water availability.
  • Climate change undermines human health. Climate shocks and stressors compromise healthcare and worsen long-standing social and economic inequities that contribute to illness, but community strengths and adaptation measures can boost resilience.
  • Rising sea levels harm infrastructure and islands’ economies. Sea-level rise intensifies loss of territory and disrupts livelihoods, however, governments and communities are innovating through renewable energy, green infrastructure and sustainable economic growth.
  • Responses help to safeguard tropical ecosystems and biodiversity. Increased fire risk, severe droughts, and ocean changes have broad negative impacts on native plants and wildlife and ocean ecosystems. Effective adaptation strategies include ecosystem protection and restoration, invasive species measures and fire prevention.
  • Indigenous Peoples and their knowledge systems are central to the resilience of island communities amidst the changing climate.

Since the Fourth National Climate Assessment, published in 2018, a new component is the chapter’s inclusion of a key message on human health and its emphasis on food security, integration of Indigenous knowledge, and recognition of data inequities for the Pacific Islands and U.S. Caribbean.

The full National Climate Assessment is published as an interactive website and Chapter 30: Hawaiʻi and U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands.

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