To the low-lying small islands across the immense Pacific Ocean, the term climate change is not some abstract concept, it's very real and it's not just a change, it's an obvious crisis.
The increased frequency and intensity of storms have demonstrated the need to mobilise, look ahead and recalibrate, and this is just what the Cook Islands Government is proactively doing.
Plans commissioned to address the crisis by government subsidiary, the Cook Islands Investment Corporation, recently won two International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) awards.
Praised by judges for their bold climate change mitigation and positive contribution to the wider Cook Islands community, the plans also involved making some tough environmental trade-offs in order to step towards a more sustainable future.
The environmental compromises included the partial infilling of a degraded lagoon to form a large town park. It received unanimous support, principally because communities and the Government understood that a wide and raised "green sponge" was needed to act as a buffer to take the brunt of the storm surge and then drain the wash.
Under the plan, ambitious ideas such as including a centre for cultural events, arts and performance, the development of a secondary road inland in case of coastal flooding, a new wastewater facility, building design guidelines, and a total shift to renewable energy were passed.
While new builds will now be encouraged to be located inland, bigger moves had to be entertained to safeguard the existing buildings that follow the single coastal route lined with the Islands' key institutions including the police HQ, the Parliament, the law courts, and even the supermarket. They're all vulnerable to being inundated and knocked down by storms - and with them the entire economy.
This immediate threat presented by the climate crisis helped bind the community together to support the town plan. Gaining such a high level of support was not easy, as traditionally, controls over tribally owned land were fiercely resisted, and Western concepts of separation of activities by zoning restrictions, setbacks and height controls would not fly.
The alternative step-like process was developed in a broad consultative way that recognised the public and political realities and challenges to building consensus and implementing long-term change.
Prepared by Reset Urban Design from Auckland, working with traffic engineers Stantec and local architect Romani Katoa, Te Tau Papa o Avarua, the Cook Islands capital's first-ever town plan won an IFLA award.
This process was also the key with the second IFLA award winner, Te Papa Tau O Araura - the first spatial plan for the island of Aitutaki.
Aitutaki lies about 200km due north of Rarotonga and is famed for its picturesque lagoon, though the truth is that like a lot of Pacific Islands, those turquoise waters are deteriorating due to warming waters, together with septic tanks and landfill that are leaching contaminates.
Te Papa Tau o Araura is a much-needed first step in addressing and co-ordinating issues across all aspects of the Island's planning including: land use, reafforestation, movement, open space, food production, responsible waste disposal, water supply, managing tourism, housing, and even signage.
The community said that they did not want this plan to be a growth strategy, but rather a qualitative management tool.
Its main objective is to build the resilience of Aitutaki by being environmentally based, people-centred, community empowering, and future-focused.
But the two plans are just a start. As living documents, they will evolve and develop over coming years and they face the additional Covid-imposed challenges of finding funding. It is hoped that the recognition brought about by the awards will help to attract investment from other government and private sources so the plans can be implemented.
These bold initiatives, brought about through a crisis, may inspire other Pacific nations to build the consensus needed to find ways to protect their own vulnerable coastal environments.
• Garth Falconer is an urban designer and the director of Reset Urban Design. He is the author of Living in Paradox and Harry Turbott: New Zealand's first landscape architect.