Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Humanities and Social Inquiry


Despite the clear impacts — both present and future — of climate change on human mobility, before 2018 no state had adopted specific domestic-level policies to manage climate-related mobility, displacement, or relocation. The first two states to do so in 2018 were Fiji and Vanuatu, small island states in the Pacific with limited capacities for policy development and implementation. This research seeks to understand how these small Pacific states have been able to create large-scale change and between them shift how neighbouring states and the international community conceptualise and address internal climate mobilities. I argue that, given the right conditions, small states can create large-scale normative change. When complex global issues have inadequate international governance, and traditional leaders in the space abdicate responsibility, small states have a greater chance of stepping forward and creating change, as we can see in the cases of Fiji and Vanuatu. This change has occurred through the contestation and creation of norms. Building on the growing literature around norm contestation, I identify a particular type of contestation I term norm weaving. Here, smaller states can create change by copying norms from existing regimes and reproducing them to apply to a new issue area. The new norms are then woven together to create a new guide for behaviour in this space.

To show this, I engage in process tracing of the policy, practice, and promotion cycle in the entrepreneurial states of Fiji and Vanuatu, the regional leaders of New Zealand and Australia, and the adopting neighbour of Solomon Islands. This tracing is supported by data from elite-level interviews with key policy figures in the area. The findings lead us to reconsider what small states are, the change they are capable of creating, and how other states — both large and small — should be managing climate mobilities.

FoR codes (2020)

440808 International relations, 440807 Government and politics of Asia and the Pacific, 440403 Labour, migration and development, 440805 Environmental politics

This thesis is unavailable until Friday, May 01, 2026



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.