The Cook Islands is a territory made up of 15 islands, with the high volcanic island of Rarotonga the centre of government and commerce. Geographically—and to a certain extent culturally, the nation is divided into two groups: the southern group, comprising the islands of Aitutaki, Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke, Mitiaro, Rarotonga, Manuae (an uninhabited atoll) and Takutea (an uninhabited sand cay); and the northern group, comprising the islands of Manihiki, Palmerston, Penrhyn, Pukapuka, Suwarrow (atolls) and Nassau, which are relatively isolated and less developed. Economically, the Cook Islands is sustained by agriculture, the black pearl industry, offshore banking and tourism.
The country is a self-governing, parliamentary, representative democracy within a constitutional monarchy in free association with New Zealand. Under the terms of the free association, Cook Islanders hold New Zealand citizenship (there is no Cook Islands citizenship) and enjoy the right of free access to New Zealand. New Zealand retains some responsibility for external affairs in consultation with the Cook Islands, although in recent times, the country has adopted an increasingly independent foreign policy and has diplomatic relations in its own name with 21 countries and international organisations.
Environmentally, the most recent climate science report for the Cook Islands revealed that the country’s current climate shows that warming trends are evident in annual and half-year maximum and minimum air temperatures at Rarotonga (Southern Cook Islands) for the period 1934–2011. The annual number of warm days and warm nights from 1935 increased at Rarotonga, while the number of cold nights has decreased. This trend is predicted to continue, based on the latest global climate model (GCM) projections and climate science findings. Other projections include the possibility of more extreme rain events, particularly in the northern group; continued ocean acidification with increased risk of coral bleaching; and continued sea level rise.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) is the political focal point for climate change, disaster risk management and development. In 2011 Climate Change Cook Islands (CCCI) was established as a division of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and signalled the transfer of the operational focal point functions from the National Environment Services (NES). All international, regional and national climate change matters are managed, overseen and coordinated by CCCI.
The country’s adaptation priorities include strengthening infrastructure and safeguarding essential services, taking into account current and anticipated climate changes and strengthening economic development and livelihood systems in key sectors, increasing resilience to disasters and climate change. These have been progressed by a number of lead government agencies with the exception of a few strategic outcome yet to commence.