Tokelau consists of three small coral atolls. The largest atoll is Nukunonu at 4.7sq km. Fakaofo and Atafu are 4sq km and 3.5 sq. km, respectively. From Atafu in the north to Fakaofo in the south, Tokelau extends for less than 200km and the atolls are three to five metres above sea level. Therefore, the physical features in Tokelau are very limited and make the territory vulnerable to sea level rising caused by the effects of climate change.
Tokelau has a youthful population with a median age of 22 years. Of the usual resident population, there is a noticeable narrowing of the population structure in the 20-29 year olds, most likely because of their mobility for reasons such as education and employment outside of the country. There are almost the same number of males and females, with females having a higher life expectancy.
Climate change has had an obvious effect on Tokelau and is a real threat to its long-term viability. The country now experiences more cyclones and storm surges than it had in the past. These cyclones and storm surges are more intense, severely eroding coastal areas wiping out some species of plants due to the saline levels of the soil. Some smaller islets have also disappeared due to the sea-level rise.
On larger islets, the increasing erosion threatens the production of the few crops which can be grown. The extreme weather conditions are experienced more often with an increasing number of hot days during the year and unusually high temperatures during times of the year when one would normally expect cooler temperatures. As a consequence of coral bleaching, now an annual event, degradation of the coral reefs both inside and outside the lagoon has occurred. This has greatly affected the quantity and quality of food supply from the inshore fish population. The life cycle of in-shore fish is also affected by the extreme weather conditions which have seen the decrease in the number and gradual disappearance of some species of fish from the lagoons. This threatens the food supply for villages as fish is the main source of sustenance.
Hotter temperatures is also affecting the health of the general population, particularly the more vulnerable such as those with respiratory ailments or the young and elderly. Coping with the longer spells of hot weather and increasing periods of no rain is stressful and there is a need to mitigate for this risk by improving the water storage systems and ensuring that all families are able to access adequate and safe supplies of water.
Economically, Tokelau is dependent on financial assistance from New Zealand for its recurrent budget and also for the majority of its infrastructure developments. There is currently little opportunity for diversification. Local revenue is primarily from the EEZ Fishing License fees, locally imposed duties and taxes, freight and boat fares and interest payments. With few natural resources available for economic development, Tokelau relies on assistance from New Zealand for the majority of its development initiatives.