Headline: The Role of Perceptions in Coping with Environmental Changes. Perspectives from Pacific Small Island States

Inhabitants of Pacific Small Island States are facing multiple socio-ecological pressures and the impacts of global climate change aggravate the situation. In order to reduce present and future vulnerabilities it is necessary to address the causes of such detrimental alterations and to find sustainable ways to cope with present and projected challenges. Studying people’s perspectives and agency, or in other words, their perceptions and behaviour, can help to better understand how sustainable practices can be motivated and can contribute to an increased efficiency of mitigation and adaptation projects. Despite increasing research related to environmental changes and their resulting impacts for the Pacific island region, the breadth of perspectives of local people is often under-represented in science and policy. This thesis therefore illustrates the role and diversity of perceptions that guide human behaviour in the context of addressing environmental challenges. Based on a summary of theoretical considerations three major areas of relevant perceptions have been identified. These include perceptions related to environmental change, coping strategies, and social processes. In a survey study (N=180) perceptions of climate-related environmental changes and ways of addressing resulting impacts have been investigated in Tuvalu, Samoa, and Tonga. The results reveal that the respondents perceive a multitude of alterations and attribute them mainly to irresponsible human behaviour. The perceptions of the intensity of change and the degree of perceived impacts vary within and between island states. A certain fraction of this variance can be explained by geographical and climatic differences between the islands and sociodemographic variables. People’s perspectives on their ability to cope with the impacts on their lives reflect not only the diversity of measures that locals use, but also their will to adapt and the acknowledgement of their own responsibilities. However, the perception of lacking skills, opportunities, and low self-efficacy are likely to hinder effective adaptation. Sustainable ways of adaptation could therefore be encouraged by offering information about effective measures, skills to implement them, and the availability of materials. Here, the study results regarding the expectations that locals have of other actors, such as governments, NGOs, and the church, can be helpful for developing coherent support. The findings could be incorporated by local organizations to a) further identify specific needs of communities, b) work on tailored information about environmental change and effective coping strategies, and c) find ways for approaching and motivating different demographic groups. Thereby, this dissertation could contribute to an enhanced understanding of the complexity of local perspectives on current developments and to advance strategies for a transition to more sustainable lifestyles.

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Beyerl, K. (2018). The Role of Perceptions in Coping with Environmental Changes. Perspectives from Pacific Small Island States. PhD Thesis, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin.

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