Climate Change and SIDS

The UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Land Locked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS) considers the issues pertaining to climate change as paramount to the developmental challenges faced by the most vulnerable groups of countries – LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS.  There continues to be the need for greater emphasis to be placed on incorporating climate change into development priorities at the national and regional levels.  Likewise, additional resources, earmarked to address climage change issues in the most vulnerable countries  is required from the international community.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – for the most part – have common economic concerns.  They are typically more vulnerable to internal and external shocks such as social conflict, extreme climatic events, reliance on few and distant markets, heavy reliance on a handful of industries such as tourism and fisheries, heavy dependency on imported petroleum products, low levels of foreign direct investment, vast distances to markets and a handful of trading partners.

Why is climate change so important to SIDS?  The climate of SIDS is greatly influenced by large oceanic and atmospheric interactions that includes trade winds, El Niño and monsoons while tropical cyclones are also important components of the climate alongside the impacts of sea-level rise.  The particular climatic conditions in combination with socio-economic vulnerabilities ensures that SIDS are amongst the most vulnerable countries when it comes to adapting to the adverse effects of climate change.  While for the time being SIDS are heavily reliant on fossil fuels, they account for less than one percent of global green house gas (GHG) emissions.

These small nations are amongst the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and indeed the international community at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 acknowledged the special case of the vulnerabilities of SIDS.  While these countries are the least responsible for climate change, they are likely to suffer most from the adverse effects and could in some cases become uninhabitable.

The Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of SIDS (BPoA) and the Mauritius Strategy for the further Implementation of the BPoA (MSI), guide the implementation of sustainable development in SIDS and both explicitly recognise the threat that climate change poses to SIDS.  Recommendations on actions to be taken to help SIDS adapt which were suggested in the BPoA are strengthened in the Mauritius strategy and include:

  • Greater energy efficiency and development of renewable energy sources;
  •  Dissemination of new technologies and ideas to SIDS;
  • Raising the scientific capacities of SIDS with the support of the IPCC; and
  •  Greater investment in monitoring of global and local climate changes.

Although Small Island Developing States vary in their geography, climate, culture and stage of economic development, they have many common characteristics which  highlight their vulnerability, particularly as it relates to sustainable development and  climatic change. These characteristics include:

  • Limited physical size, which effectively reduces some adaptation options to climate change and sea-level rise (e.g., retreat; in some cases entire islands could be eliminated, so abandonment would be the only option);
  • Generally limited natural resources, which are, in many cases, already heavily stressed from unsustainable human activities;
  • High susceptibility to natural hazards such as tropical cyclones (hurricanes) andassociated storm surge, droughts, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions;
  • Relatively thin water lenses that are highly sensitive to the sea-level changes; in some cases, relative isolation and great distance to major markets;
  • Extreme openness of small economies and high sensitivity to external market shocks, over which they exert little or no control (low economic resilience);
  • Generally high population densities and in some cases high population growthrates;
  • Frequently poorly developed infrastructure (except for major foreign exchange earning sectors such as tourism).