Green Economy Transition Promises Multiple Benefits for Small Island States

NairobiCreating the enabling conditions for a Green Economy transition in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) from improved public investment to reliable market instruments and better governance will help the estimated 50 million SIDS residents build climate resilience, achieve economic growth and enjoy better standards of living.

The transition will offer opportunities for SIDS to better manage natural capital, protect the environment, create green jobs and achieve sustainable development, according to studies by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Kurumba Island, Maldives
Kurumba Island, Maldives. Image courtesy of the Small Island Developing States Network (SIDSNet) © UNEP

UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “For many Small Island Developing States, future development is dependent on a very narrow resource base that is constantly challenged by the high-risk impacts of climate change and natural disasters. In our lifetime, there may be small island developing nations that will cease to exist as a result of sea level rise.”

“From economic growth to climate change and food security, the issues facing SIDS are multi-dimensional and require integrated action to address them. An inclusive Green Economy approach offers opportunities for SIDS to better manage natural capital, protect the environment, create green jobs and achieve sustainable development. For this end, it is vital that the right enabling conditions are provided to generate and stimulate both public and private sector investments that incorporate broader environmental and social criteria,” he added.

Addressing Climate Change Vulnerability

SIDS are known to be especially vulnerable to climate change due to their small size, narrow resource base, high susceptibility to natural disasters, low economic resilience, and limited human and technological capacity.

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that global warming will lead to a sea level rise of 180 to 590 mm by 2100, while more recent research suggests that these estimates are likely to be at least twice as large. Nations such as Kiribati, Maldives, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu will become uninhabitable in this scenario, while a large share of the population of many other SIDS will be displaced or otherwise adversely impacted.

These negative impacts come even though the combined annual carbon dioxide output of SIDS accounts for less than one per cent of global emissions, meaning they have not contributed significantly to climate change. However, SIDS emissions are on the rise: from 1990 to 2006, CO2 emissions of SIDS increased at an average annual rate of 2.3 per cent.

Adverse impacts on drinking water and agricultural production are expected due to saline intrusion on coastal aquifers and the destruction of coral reefs and fishery habitats from temperature rises and increased ocean acidification.

Other climate change impacts include the destruction of infrastructure and development gains due to stronger tropical cyclones, such as those in 2004 (Grenada, Haiti and Niue), 2005 (the Cook Islands) and 2008 (Cuba, Fiji and Haiti). For instance, Hurricane Ivan damaged 90 per cent of the housing stock of the island of Grenada, with an estimated impact of US $ 527 million or 38 per cent of the country’s GDP, according to the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

Climate change adaptation has been identified as a top priority for SIDS. It also represents a major economic cost; the capital cost of sea level rise in the Caribbean Community Countries alone is estimated at US $ 187 billion by 2080 under a business-as-usual scenario.

Climate Change Adaptation

UNEP’s climate change adaptation programme works in SIDS across the Caribbean, the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific to support them in reducing their vulnerability and building resilience to the impacts of climate change.

UNEP is working with SIDS to better understand the impacts and vulnerabilities associated with climate change, and to identify, select and implement adaptation options, including Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) approaches (using the services provided by ecosystems).

Through its National Adaptation Plans Global Support Programme, UNEP is also assisting SIDS in their long-term adaptation planning. Furthermore, to facilitate countries’ access to adaptation finance, UNEP is supporting several SIDS in the process towards Adaptation Fund direct access accreditation.

Through Regional Networks linked with the Global Adaptation Network (GAN), UNEP is facilitating knowledge-sharing and learning on adaptation. To provide a platform for cross-regional exchanges between SIDS, UNEP is exploring interest from the countries and relevant organizations in launching a GAN inter-regional thematic network on SIDS at the Third SIDS Conference in Samoa.