Cornell students study climate change impact in Tonga

Matangi Tonga Online, 8th April 2019

A group of students from Cornell University, an Ivy League research university in Ithaca, New York, were in Nuku’alofa last week to look at the impact of climate change in Tonga as part of their Spring break workshop focusing on the Pacific.

The university’s Department of City and Regional Planning Professor Gerard Finin, said Tonga has some very low-lying areas and some real climate change challenges.

“This was really a golden opportunity to gain a broader and deeper appreciation on the ground both culturally as well as in terms of what government, NGO’s and the private sector are all doing to address the pressing climate change issue.”


As part of their research, the students looked at various scenarios caused by climate change that might happen and already happening, such as rising sea levels, drought, and impacts on economic development.

Lukas, a second-year master’s degree student said they spoke about these scenarios and possible policy solutions that might work to solve them with various government ministries, NGOs and the private sector.

One of the scenarios is coastal erosion, occurring at a more rapid rate than it is now, with bigger king tides, continuous sea level rising, and more cyclones, and looking at where people who lose their land would go, he said. 

“I think the biggest thing we’ve heard that’s kind of challenging is the [Tongan] land system.”

“One of the solutions we talked about was the possibility of a potential free association relationship with another country,” he said.

“So, I think it’s going to be tough finding creative solutions, but I think there’s going to have to be consideration of either smaller land plots or even the idea of multi-family housing, which seems to be very uncomfortable culturally.”

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