Pacific Climate Change Mobility Research – Tonga and Samoa

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A small team at the University of Waikato are leading a ground-breaking two-year project on the future of climate change mobility in the Pacific. This project has been commissioned by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and is enabled by New Zealand’s climate finance through the International Development Cooperation (IDC) Programme.

The project sits within an overall programme of work which commenced in late 2022 and covers nine Pacific nations (and their populations). The team at the University of Waikato hold the contract for both Tonga (and Tongan people) and Samoa (and Samoan people) and Professor Sandy Morrison has also undertaken the Pou Māori role for the programme as a whole.

Project background

Climate change is an immediate and acute challenge in the Pacific, and Pacific communities have identified climate change as the single greatest threat they face. This requires new thinking, greater ambition, and improved collaboration to realise effective, long-term and sustainable change. It also requires better information for making government policies, including around how people move (or not) in response to the impacts of climate change.

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) has commissioned research to better understand future climate change mobility in the Pacific – both within countries and across borders. The research is also investigating immobility – when people choose to, or cannot, move in response to climate change impacts. The outcomes of this critical research will inform a range of policies for Aotearoa New Zealand and research products will be shared with the Tongan and Samoan governments to support their planning and action.

Research questions

The research seeks to understand the future scale, pattern and impact (social, cultural and economic) of climate change mobility in the Pacific region, including on Aotearoa New Zealand. Within this, the team will produce new insights on areas such as mobility decision-making, mobility and conflict, cultural, economic and social impacts of mobility, land context, risks and implications, climate adaptation challenges, the role of the church and the role/s of the international diaspora.

Beyond this, the team will be contributing other new insights to this field, such as identifying ‘mobility personas’ for the Tongan and Samoan population to support future projections.

Research approaches and activities

Over 800 participants have been engaged so far in Tonga and Samoa, across all major island groups. Research activities have included survey, one-on-one talanoa with leaders, group talanoa with women and youth, unique future visualisation/imagination sessions and future scenario planning workshops. The team have also conducted site visits to meet with those who have undergone environmentally driven mobility, including those relocated following the recent Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption and subsequent tsunami in Tonga, as well as those displaced by the 2009 tsunami event in Samoa.

In addition, a selection of eminent Māori leaders have been engaged on their perspectives of Pacific climate mobility, identifying risks and opportunities for further exploration. The research team are internationally recognised for their leadership in Pacific (e.g., Talanoa Research Methodology) and Māori research methodologies – methodologies that are centred in the approach to the project.

Why this research matters

Climate change mobility will intensify regionally and globally in future. The outcomes of this research will inform future policymaking that affects both those with direct links to the Pacific and all people in Aotearoa New Zealand. Beyond this, this research will contribute considerably to thinking on contextual approaches, risks and solutions in the context of progressive climate change.

Within the overall programme of work, this project, focused on Tonga and Samoa, is particularly relevant to Aotearoa New Zealand given economic, cultural and population ties between these two nations and ours - Samoan people represent the largest Pacific population and Tongan people the fastest growing Pacific population in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The research team


Professor Sandy Morrison


Lora Vaioleti


Dr. Timote Vaioleti

Research outputs

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Interviews with six prominent Māori on future Pacific climate mobility, possible implications, risks and opportunities.

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Powerful stories from one-on-one visualisation sessions on the future/s of Tonga and Samoa.

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From survey one – internal and overseas destination preferences, recent and planned mobility, mobility drivers.

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Summary of latest existing data and projections to 2050 for population, economy and environment.

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Output from future scenario workshops held with leaders in Samoa and Tonga, defining and exploring different futures, identifying risks/mitigations.

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(Im)movable women (to come)

Findings from engagements with women, including women leaders, in Tonga and Samoa re: the future, unique risks and opportunities.

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The Diaspora (to come)

Perspectives and insights from the Tongan and Samoan diaspora, their unique contribution, influence and potential in a climate mobile future.

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Landed (to come)

A collection of insights from talanoa on land issues, risks, trends, opportunities in the context of climate mobility.


more to come


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