Can Island States Withstand the Effects of Climate Change?

Small island nations are facing the brunt of the climatic crisis around the world, and their issues have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has badly harmed their economies and their ability to protect themselves from extinction. We look at some of the numerous obstacles they confront and how they might be overcome.

The UN has designated 38 member states and 22 associate members as Small Island Developing States or SIDS, and they are caught in a cruel paradox: they are responsible for less than 1% of global carbon emissions, but they are suffering severely from the effects of climate change to the point where they may become uninhabitable.

Despite their limited landmass, many of these countries are large ocean states with abundant marine resources and biodiversity that are vulnerable to ocean warming. They are increasingly vulnerable to increasingly extreme weather events, such as the devastating cyclones that have struck the Caribbean in recent years, and they find it difficult to allocate funds to sustainable development programmes that could help them cope better, such as building more robust buildings that can withstand heavy storms, due to their limited resources.

The COVID-19 outbreak has wreaked havoc on the economies of numerous island nations that rely heavily on tourism. International travel has been severely restricted as a result of the global crisis, making it considerably more difficult for them to repay their loans.

Due to lockdowns, trade restrictions, commodity price drops, and supply chain disruptions, their income has virtually vanished with the loss of tourism, Munir Akram, the head of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, said in April. He went on to say that their debts are causing impossibly difficult financial challenges for them to recover from the crisis.

The majority of research suggests that low-lying atoll islands, primarily in the Pacific Ocean, such as the Marshall Islands and Kiribati, would be flooded by the end of the century, although there are signs that some islands will become uninhabitable much sooner. Due to saltwater inundation of freshwater aquifers, low-lying islands are expected to face coastal erosion and decreasing freshwater quality and availability. This means that small island governments may face an almost unthinkable predicament in which they run out of freshwater before they run out of land.

Furthermore, many islands are still protected by reefs, which are important for fisheries and balanced diets. Unless we keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, these reefs will almost certainly perish.

Despite the massive decline in global economic activity during the COVID-19 epidemic, damaging greenhouse gas emissions surged in 2002, and the last six years, 2015–2020, are expected to be the warmest on record.

Despite the massive decline in global economic activity during the COVID-19 epidemic, damaging greenhouse gas emissions surged in 2002, and the last six years, 2015–2020, are expected to be the warmest on record.

Climate funding is increasing, with an average annual amount of $48.7 billion in 2017-2018. This is a 10% increase over the preceding period of 2015–2016. While mitigation activities received more than half of all climate-specific financial support in 2017-2018, adaptation is gaining traction and is being prioritised by several governments.

This is a cost-effective strategy because if not enough resources are invested in adaptation and mitigation, more resources will be required to handle loss and damage.

SIDS are reliant on petroleum imports to meet their energy needs. Shipping fossil fuel to islands pollutes the environment and costs a lot of money. Recognizing the issues, some of these countries have made progress in their efforts to transition to renewable energy sources.

For example, Tokelau in the South Pacific uses renewable energy to meet nearly 100 per cent of its energy needs, while Barbados in the Caribbean is committed to using 100 per cent renewable energy and achieving zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Several SIDS have set aggressive renewable energy objectives, including Samoa, the Cook Islands, Cabo Verde, Fiji, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Vanuatu intending to increase the amount of renewables in their energy mix from 60% to 100%. In 2018, Seychelles issued the world’s first sovereign blue bond, a groundbreaking financial instrument designed to finance sustainable marine and fisheries projects.

Indigenous communities’ long-standing customs, along with cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, are increasingly being viewed as critical tools for adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate catastrophe.

Local communities in Papua New Guinea utilise locally produced coconut oil as a less expensive, more ecological alternative to diesel; seafaring vessels throughout Micronesia and Melanesia in the Pacific employ solar panels and batteries instead of internal combustion engines. On islands like Tonga and Vanuatu, mangrove forests are being restored to address extreme weather by protecting communities from storm surges and sequestering carbon; and in the Pacific, a foundation is building traditional Polynesian canoes, or Vakas, that will serve as sustainable passenger and cargo transportation for health services, education, disaster relief, and research.

While SIDS has drawn much-needed attention to the predicament of vulnerable countries, much more needs to be done to help them become more resilient and adjust to a world of increasing sea levels and extreme weather.

SIDS are, on average, more heavily indebted than other developing countries, therefore the availability of “climate funding” (money that may be spent on a variety of activities that help to slow down climate change) is critical.

Developed countries agreed more than a decade ago to generate $100 billion per year in support of climate action in developing countries by 2020; while the amount these countries receive is increasing, there is still a huge funding shortfall. A featured item in the UN News recently explained how climate finance works and the UN’s participation in it.

SIDS require assistance in addition to adaptation and resilience to climate change in order to prosper in an increasingly unpredictable environment. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is assisting these vulnerable countries in a variety of ways to help them diversify their economies, improve energy independence by increasing renewable energy sources and reducing reliance on imported fuels, develop sustainable tourism industries, and transition to a “blue economy” that protects and restores marine environments.

Photo Credit: https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/07/1096642