1601 East-West Road, Honolulu, HI 96848 info@pacificrisa.org 808.944.7111

Climate-induced Migration

Analyzing Causes and Impacts of Climate-induced Migration in the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands

In partnership with the University of Hawai‘i, the Pacific RISA is investigating climate-induced migration in the US-Affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPI) and its potential impact on Hawai‘i. This project identifies and employs pioneering social science methods and mapping techniques to more accurately link migration to climate change and climate variability-related events.

A central component of the project is an in-depth study of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), examining recent migration trends, both internal to RMI and from the nation-state to Hawai‘i, Guam, and the continental U.S. A quantitative and qualitative analysis will identify factors driving migration. The research model is designed to be transferable to other nation-states or territories within the USAPI and could later be expanded to the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), for example.


A comprehensive map of the USAPI showing current and forecasted stocks and flows of migration over a given period will accompany the case study. Utilizing existing climate data and the latest downscaled climate projections, the team will develop and apply an environmental threat index. Overlaid with social data, this will suggest potential “hotspots” for future climate-related migration. These and other methods aim to examine the extent to which we can identify direct and indirect links between patterns of migration and climate events and impacts, an objective to which the project can uniquely contribute.

A white paper tailored for policymakers will present the results of the case study and summarize the legal and policy implications of the findings. As a result of this project, policymakers and US Pacific-region communities will gain insight into the linkages between climate change and migration, better enabling them to adequately prepare for changes.


U.S. Census Bureau. (2012.) The Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander Population: 2010. (U.S. Census Brief No. C2010BR-12.) Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Census Bureau.

Blair, C. (2015, October 21). Health Care: Migration is Often a Matter of Survival. Civil Beat. Retrieved December 22, 2015, from http://www.civilbeat.com/2015/10/health-care-migration-is-often-a-matter-of-survival/

Donna Davis (2014), Modeling Scenarios of Sea-level Rise and Human Migration: Rita Village, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, University of Arkansas.

Letman, J. “Micronesians in Hawai‘i face uncertain future. Al Jazeera America,” 2013. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/humanrights/2013/10/micronesians-Hawai‘i-face-uncertain-future-201310191535637288.html

Piguet, E. (2011). The migration/climate change nexus: an assessment. Rethinking migration: climate, resource conflicts, and migration in Europe. Retrieved from http://migration-history.org/rethinking-migration-2011/2/papers/Piguet.pdf.

Thomas, A. (2014). Protecting people displaced by weather-related disasters and climate change: experience from the field. Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, 15: 803-808. Retrieved from http://vjel.vermontlaw.edu/files/2014/06/Thomas_forprint.pdf.

Warner, K, Afifi, T, Henry, K, Rawe, T, Smith, C, and de Sherbinin, A. (2012). Where the rain falls: climate change, food and livelihood security, and migration. CARE and UNU-EHS. Retrieved from http://wheretherainfalls.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/2755WTRF_report_lowres.pdf.

Lead Researcher

Maxine Burkett, Associate Professor of Law, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa