Environment and climate crisis

Many SIDS among the most environmentally vulnerable countries

For many people, the mention of countries like the Bahamas or Fiji tends to conjure up images of white sand beaches, azure blue seas and cloudless skies. This chapter, however, highlights how fragile and vulnerable these islands are (see What makes a SIDS a SIDS). Due to their unique geography, SIDS face a unique and varied mix of environmental concerns, ranging from increased exposure to storms and floods, to the loss of their actual land. They account for three of the top five most environmentally vulnerable countries according to the EVI in 2020 (see Country profiles), with Kiribati ranked most vulnerable -—
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. The scale and the source of vulnerability vary considerably by region: Pacific SIDS are the most vulnerable, with an average rank of 29 out of 143 countries classified, followed by the Atlantic and Indian Ocean SIDS, with an average rank of 61, and finally by the Caribbean SIDS, with an average rank of 86.

Table 1. Ten most vulnerable countries according to the 2020 EVI
RankCountry
1Kiribati
2Marshall Islands
3Tuvalu
4Gambia
5Chad
6Somalia
7Djibouti
8Federated States of Micronesia
9Eritrea
10Botswana
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Note: SIDS highlighted

In order to grapple with the magnitude of the issues facing SIDS and the different challenges in each region, it is important to understand the physical geographies of each region, as well as how their populations live.

SIDS' Oceans: an integral part of their economies and cultures

As the defining characteristic of SIDS is their island nature, it should come as no surprise that oceans play an important role. The oceans and seas touch every aspect of island life, from where people live, to how they support themselves, to how they communicate and interface with the rest of the world. Between SIDS, however, there is considerable variation in their relationships with their respective oceans. For example, figure 1 illustrates the stark differences in average size of adjacent marine resources under an island state’s jurisdiction.

Figure 1. Exclusive economic zone (EEZ), 2018 Figure 1. Exclusive economic zone (EEZ), 2018
(regional average, km2)
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Figure 2. Distance from capital to nearest neighbouring capital Figure 2. Distance from capital to nearest neighbouring capital
(regional average, km)
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Pacific and Atlantic and Indian Ocean SIDS have on average substantially larger territorial waters than LDCs or Caribbean SIDS. The Caribbean SIDS in fact tend to have smaller EEZs than even LDCs. This is due to the different nature of the oceans and seas where the groups find themselves. The Caribbean SIDS are heavily concentrated in the relatively compact Caribbean Sea, while the Atlantic and Indian Ocean and Pacific SIDS tend to be widely spread apart over the expansive Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. This also leads to different degrees of remoteness, as figure 2 reveals. Pacific and Atlantic and Indian Ocean SIDS’ capitals are on average more than four times farther from the closest foreign capital than Caribbean SIDS’.

These vast territorial waters have a direct impact on the makeup of SIDS’ economies, which often possess large tourism, fishing and other marine resource extraction sectors. The Caribbean SIDS rely on average more on tourism, and the Pacific SIDS more on fishing -—
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. This is an outcome of the groups’ locations and geographies. The Caribbean SIDS’ proximity to large economies in North and South America, as well as affordable and well-established air and cruise connections, ensure a higher proportion of tourism compared with the far-flung Pacific SIDS, to which trips by boat can take days or weeks, and air-connections are longer and pricier.

For SIDS, fishing and other marine-extraction activities account for an even larger proportion of employment and nutrition than of GDP -—
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. This makes the islands particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The variety and breadth of that vulnerability, discussed later in the chapter, is daunting, including loss of fish stocks due to warming seas, increased frequency of storms and floods, loss of land to rising seas, bleaching of coral reefs, and destruction of marine ecosystems due to ocean acidification, to name a few.

Newly available data from the UNCTAD BioTrade initiative further underscore the importance of biologically derived goods to SIDS’ economies. Figure 3 shows the share of trade ‘derived from native biodiversity under the criteria of environmental, social and economic sustainability known as the BioTrade Principles and Criteria’ -—
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Figure 3. Biotrade as a share of total trade Figure 3. Biotrade as a share of total trade
(Percentage)

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Biotrade accounts for a significantly higher share of trade in SIDS compared with other developing countries, with the exception of the Caribbean SIDS before 2015. In fact, biotrade consistently accounts for more than 40 per cent of Atlantic and Indian Ocean SIDS' trade and more than 30 per cent of Pacific SIDS’. The percentage was historically lower in the Caribbean SIDS, but has been growing since 2015, even surpassing the Atlantic and Indian Ocean SIDS’ share in 2018. The UNCTAD BioTrade Initiative has been fostering sustainable trade as an incentive for biodiversity conservation and improved economic and social welfare since 1996. UNCTAD and its partners have been implementing the BioTrade principles and criteria -—
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. These have been implemented by governments, the private sector and civil society in over 65 countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe to develop sectors, value chains and businesses. The sales of BioTrade beneficiaries reached €5.149 billion in 2019. For instance, in 2020 UNCTAD, OECS and CITES launched the Blue BioTrade project -—
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that supports the development of the queen conch chain in selected Eastern Caribbean countries.

The Blue BioTrade project is part of UNCTAD's larger concept of the oceans economy, or the blue economy -—
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. The oceans economy simultaneously promotes economic growth, environmental sustainability and social inclusion related to the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources and ecosystems, reflected in SDG goal 14, Life Below Water. The oceans economy offers significant development opportunities for SIDS in sectors such as sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, renewable marine energy, marine bioprospecting, maritime transport, and marine and coastal tourism -—
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. Coastal and marine tourism is the largest oceans economic sector for SIDS, especially in the Caribbean (see Tourism). Other sectors, such as fisheries, though less relevant in terms of export value or GDP share, are important sources of income and employment, particularly for coastal communities and women. The fisheries sector has also proven to be resilient if adequately managed, as it is considered an essential activity for food security. It has also been less impacted by occasional climate events such as hurricanes or typhoons, which tend not to affect underwater ecosystems.

Therefore, the promotion of development strategies that consider the sustainable use of marine resources is crucial for these countries. To contribute to this goal, UNCTAD is working with Caribbean countries to identify and develop business opportunities that contribute to the development of sustainable oceans economic sectors through the definition and implementation of national and regional oceans economy and trade strategies -—
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Effective policy design, however, is significantly hampered by data limitations. Lack of data, particularly related to sustainable trade in ocean-based sectors, is also a feature of the oceans economy. UNCTAD is working on a novel sustainable ocean economy classification for tradable goods and services for all countries in response to these data limitations. The classification features three categories: goods, services and energy. It considers six sectors in goods, six sectors in services and a mixed sector, energy. Each sector is disaggregated further in subsectors, 52 in total. The classification includes ocean-based goods directly harvested from the oceans or cultivated from marine species, as well as marine-based processed goods and products for carrying out ocean-based activities. It also includes ocean-based services that use marine ecosystems to deliver services, seek to conserve, sustainably use, or clean up the marine environment, support marine industries, or seek to innovate processes based on marine resources. Finally, the classification includes ocean-renewable energies, e.g., offshore wind energy, tidal power and wave power.

Novel statistics on the sustainable ocean economy, to be launched during the first half of 2021, will provide data at national, regional and global levels and facilitate the monitoring of trends up to a three-digit level of disaggregation based on the Harmonized System for the classification of products for trade in goods. This comprehensive tool will enhance the understanding of the ocean economy's reach and importance, spur collaboration across sectors and countries, and help monitor and predict changes for the economy, society and the marine environment. It will also help countries assess trade prospects in ocean-based sectors to expand internal development planning to emerging sectors.

With large ocean territories comes a multitude of coral reefs in SIDS. In fact, more than 89 per cent of SIDS contain at least some coral reef -—
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. Figure 5.1.4 shows the percentage of global coral reefs contained in SIDS, compared with other countries.

Figure 4. Distribution of coral reefs Figure 4. Distribution of coral reefs
(Percentage)
Source: UNCTAD calculations based on -—
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Counted together, SIDS contain the plurality of the world’s coral reefs, ahead even of well-known coral reef-containing nations like Indonesia and Australia.

Coral reefs’ many important roles, including acting as wave breakers to protect against flooding, encouraging biodiversity and decelerating coastal erosion, are all especially important to SIDS -—
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. These functions are invaluable both geographically and economically, as reefs help preserve SIDS’ territory while providing earnings from tourism and supporting healthy marine ecosystems, which are important for SIDS’ fishing industries.

Therefore, the range of existential threats facing the world’s coral reefs is of particular consequence to SIDS. Threats include ocean acidification, thermal stress from rising ocean temperatures and vicious cycles involving increased algae growth and compromised structures. Of the nine countries most vulnerable to coral reef degradation, five are SIDS: Grenada, Comoros, Vanuatu, Kiribati and Fiji. Ensuing economic losses promise to be relatively more devastating for these small island nations in comparison with the other, much larger and more diversified countries on the list, such as Indonesia or the Philippines -—
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Given the importance of reefs and the ocean in general to SIDS, extensive attention needs to be paid to the protection of their marine environments. While there is little they can do unilaterally regarding climate change or carbon emissions, certain measures can be taken to fight against threats such as over-fishing, pollution or exploitation. Figure 5 illustrates the extent to which SIDS in different regions protect their territorial waters, which entails measures such as restricting the types of activities allowed within a region to conserve ecological systems.

Figure 5. Marine protected areas, regional average, 2018 Figure 5. Marine protected areas, regional average, 2018
(Per cent of territorial waters)
Source: UNCTAD calculations based on -—
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There is a large regional discrepancy, with Pacific SIDS protecting a significantly larger share of their waters than Caribbean SIDS, which in turn protect significantly more than Atlantic and Indian Ocean SIDS. However, even the Pacific SIDS remain below the goal of having 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas protected by 2020, established by the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity -—
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and reflected in SDG indicator 14.5.1.

Climate change adaptation for coastal infrastructure in Caribbean SIDS

Seaports and coastal airports are critical infrastructure assets that serve as catalysts of economic growth and development in the Caribbean. Compelling scientific studies -—
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project that climate change will increase the hydro-meteorological hazards for the coastal transport infrastructure of the Caribbean, one of the most disaster-prone regions worldwide. Significant socio-economic consequences (e.g. for tourism and trade) are expected as these vital international transportation facilities are threatened by climate change. Climate-related extreme events affecting coastal transport infrastructure are likely to exacerbate existing challenges, making effective adaptation action an urgent imperative -—
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The Caribbean might face climate-related losses of US$ 22 billion annually by 2050; in terms of infrastructure damages due to sea level rise alone (exclusive of hurricane damage), the cost of inaction has been projected to amount to about US$ 16 billion annually, by 2050 -—
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. The significance of threats associated with extreme weather events has been highlighted by the impacts of the 2017 hurricane season that wreaked havoc on several Caribbean islands, including coastal airports and seaports. Global economic losses in relation to extreme weather-related events in 2017 were estimated at US$ 330 billion -—
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. Dominica’s total damages and losses from hurricane Maria alone have been estimated at 224 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) -—
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, whereas losses for Anguilla, the Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Sint Maarten and Turks and Caicos Islands from hurricanes Irma and Maria have been estimated at US$ 5.4 billion, with infrastructure-related costs representing a significant percentage of the total -—
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. Economic implications of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria also include, inter alia, reported losses by airlines serving the Caribbean, e.g. US$ 75 million by American Airlines; US$ 40 million by Sprit Airline, -—
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; at the disruption peak, revenue losses for the industry were estimated at US$75-85m per day -—
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A recent assessment by UNCTAD of the climate change induced impacts on the seaports and coastal airports of two Caribbean SIDS (Jamaica, St. Lucia), which focused on the risk of coastal flooding and of potential operational disruptions under different climate scenarios (https://SIDSport-ClimateAdapt.unctad.org, -—
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, see also -—
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), highlights the importance of climate change adaptation for critical international transportation assets. The study projected severe impacts on coastal transport infrastructure and operations that could cause major disruptions to the connectivity of SIDS to international markets as well as to related economic sectors, such as tourism -—
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Projections showed that the coastal transportation assets of both SIDS will face rapidly increasing coastal flooding in the 21st century. Flooding is projected for the airport runways of some of the examined airports and for most seaports, from as early as the 2030s. Tests that consider the resilience of infrastructure in the face of a 1 in 100-year extreme event (in terms of sea level and waves) under the 1.5 °C specific warming level (which regrettably will be reached by the early 2030s) indicate flooding for the airport runways of some of the examined airports (the George Charles International Airport and Hewanorra International Airport in Saint Lucia; as well as Sangster International Airport in Jamaica) and for most of the seaports. The exposure of these assets to coastal flooding is projected to deteriorate as the century progresses (see Figure 6).

Results of the study also suggest that air transport operations will be affected in Jamaica and St. Lucia due to future Climate Variability and Change (CV & C). The projected increases in the frequency of hot days will likely affect the airport staff ability to work safely outdoors, require reductions in aircraft payloads and increase energy costs. The following operational disruptions are projected, inter alia:

  • Outside working conditions: By the early 2030s, staff working outdoors at the Jamaican and Saint Lucian international transportation assets could be at “high” risk for 5 and 2 days per year, respectively. By 2081-2100, such days could increase to 30 and 55 days per year, respectively.
  • Aircraft take-off: By 2030, Boeing 737-800 aircraft that serve all studied airports, will have to decrease their take-off load for 65 days per year at Sangster International Airport-SIA and 24 days per year at Norman Manley International Airport- NMIA (both in Jamaica), whereas by the 2070s such days could increase at least twofold for SIA and fourfold for NMIA, assuming no targeted aircraft design changes.
  • Energy needs: a 1.5 °C temperature rise will increase energy requirements by 4 % for 214 days per year for Jamaican seaports, whereas a 3.7 °C rise (2081-2100) will increase energy requirements by 15 % for 215 days per year. Saint Lucia seaports are projected to experience similar trends.

Finally, the dominant 3S (‘Sea-Sand-Sun’) tourism model of Saint Lucia (and other Caribbean island destinations) is projected to be challenged by increasing beach erosion, which, by 2040, may overwhelm between 11 and 73 % of its beaches -—
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, with negative ramifications for tourism, the main driver of many Caribbean SIDS’ economy, accounting for between 11% and 79% of their GDP -—
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. Due to the strong nexus between tourism and the facilitating transport infrastructure, this will also have negative impacts on transportation demand.

It should be noted that important gaps remain in terms of data availability, as well as current levels of resilience and preparedness among seaports worldwide, as revealed by the UNCTAD Port Industry Survey on Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation -—
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. Moreover, recent evidence suggests that both mean and extreme sea-levels, which are the main drivers for coastal flooding, will increase even faster than previously thought -—
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. Given the potential economic implications of climate-related damage, disruption and delay, relevant information and adequate climate adaptation efforts are therefore urgently required, especially for ports in developing regions and SIDS.

Figure 6. Projected flooding of George F.L. Charles International Airport (GCIA) and Port Castries (CSP), Saint Lucia Figure 6. Projected flooding of George F.L. Charles International Airport (GCIA) and Port Castries (CSP), Saint Lucia
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Note: Under 1.5 °C warming compared with the pre-industrial times (2030), GCIA appears vulnerable to the one in 100 years extreme sea level (ESL100) mostly at its northern side (Vigie beach). As the century progresses, its vulnerability will increase. In addition, Vigie beach, located only 30 m away from the airport fence, has been projected to face significant beach erosion that will further increase coastal flooding. Under a 50-year ESL by 2050 (under the moderate IPCC RCP 4.5 scenario) the runway will be flooded from Vigie beach. Given that Port Castries is only about 1.5 m above mean sea level, there will be significant damage to the port and the capital city of Saint Lucia. Later in the century, and under both RCP scenarios tested, flooding is projected to deteriorate in the absence of effective adaptation measures.

SIDS' land: diverse but vulnerable

Ranging from the far-flung, sun-soaked, tropical atolls of Kiribati, to the densely forested and mountainous islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, there is considerable geographic diversity across SIDS. Though their land territory is much smaller in area than their ocean territory, it plays no less a central role to life on the islands and is under no less threat.

Generally speaking, SIDS are land constrained. The largest of them, Solomon Islands, measures 28 896 km2, comparable in size to Albania. The rest are considerably smaller, with Nauru measuring only 21 km2. Furthermore, of SIDS' scarce land, a considerable portion lies just five meters or less above sea level, making it more vulnerable to sea-level rise and saltwater encroachment, as illustrated by figure 7.

Figure 7. Share of land below five meters’ elevation, regional average, 2010 Figure 7. Share of land below five meters’ elevation, regional average, 2010
(Per cent of total land area)
Source: UNCTAD calculations based on -—
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For comparison, in the OECD, 1 per cent of land lies five meters or less above sea level, which stands in stark contrast to Pacific SIDS’ more than 13 per cent on average, clearly illustrating SIDS’ heightened environmental vulnerability. Of the SIDS’ land, often only a small portion is arable, as shown in figure 8.
Figure 8. Arable land as a share of total land area, 2016 Figure 8. Arable land as a share of total land area, 2016
(Per cent of total land area)
Source: UNCTAD calculations based on FAO as published by -—
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While some SIDS, especially among the Atlantic and Indian Ocean SIDS, do have a relatively high share of arable land, their small size leads to limited agricultural opportunities. The regional averages are 18 per cent for Atlantic and Indian Ocean SIDS, 10 per cent for Caribbean SIDS, and just 7 per cent for Pacific SIDS. Pacific SIDS are particularly disadvantaged in this metric, holding 6 of the last 8 spots. However, agriculture is far less important to the two non-Pacific SIDS in the last 8, as Bahamas and Seychelles both have relatively high GDP per capita predicated on tourism and other services. The corresponding fraction of arable land in OECD countries is 11 per cent for comparison -—
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This makes SIDS considerably more vulnerable to natural disasters due to climate change and rising sea levels. The vulnerability is further exacerbated by the fact that a large proportion of SIDS’ populations tends to live in low-lying coastal lands -—
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. In fact, on average, 12 per cent of the population of Atlantic and Indian Ocean and Pacific SIDS lives below 5 meters above sea-level. The figure for Caribbean SIDS is 5 per cent. For comparison, this share is less than 6 per cent on average for LDCs -—
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These factors not only threaten SIDS’ own populations, but also the prospects of a key industry - tourism. Research on the Caribbean SIDS in particular has revealed that an estimated 49 per cent of their resort properties are susceptible to damage from rising sea levels, storm surges and increased erosion -—
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. Figure 9 illustrates just how important such environmental considerations are, considering the reliance on tourism of many SIDS’ economies.

Figure 9. Direct and indirect contribution of travel and tourism to GDP, 2019 Figure 9. Direct and indirect contribution of travel and tourism to GDP, 2019
(Per cent of GDP)
Source: UNCTAD calculations based on -—
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Direct and indirect contributions of tourism account for more than half of economic output in four SIDS, and for more than 20 per cent in all but five. In the Caribbean, this dependence on tourism is strongest, accounting for more than 35 per cent of GDP in all countries except Trinidad and Tobago, which has an extensive oil and gas industry (see Tourism).

Corresponding to the need to preserve their limited land, SIDS protect on average a higher share of their land than their seas, as illustrated in figure 10.

Figure 10. Terrestrial protected areas, regional average, 2018 Figure 10. Terrestrial protected areas, regional average, 2018
(Per cent of GDP)
Source: UNCTAD calculations based on -—
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The contrast is starkest among Atlantic and Indian Ocean SIDS, which on average hardly protect their seas, but protect 15 per cent of their lands. Regional figures mask intraregional differences, however. For instance, Seychelles protects more than 40 per cent of its territory, the highest share among SIDS, while Maldives only protects 1.2 per cent, the second least.

These percentages should be increased in the coming years to protect against the many threats facing SIDS’ lands, a topic discussed in more detail in the next section.

Climate crisis: threats, challenges and ways forward

SIDS’ climate vulnerabilities can be broadly separated into two categories: short-term shocks and long-term risks. Short-term shocks refer to natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and typhoons. These are already part of life in many SIDS but with climate change threaten to become more common in the future. Long-term risks include, but are not limited to, rising sea levels and its many repercussions, including loss of living space, loss of agricultural land and contamination of drinking water due to saline intrusion -—
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, increased preponderance of drought and ocean acidification and heating and ensuing destruction to marine ecosystems and coral reefs.

Figure 11 gives a better understanding of the frequency of natural disasters in SIDS, displaying the number of natural disasters experienced per country over a five-year period as recorded in the International Disaster Database maintained by EM-DAT -—
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Figure 11. Number of natural disasters per country, five-year sum Figure 11. Number of natural disasters per country, five-year sum
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Note: Excludes geophysical and extra-terrestrial disasters.

Atlantic and Indian Ocean SIDS suffer the lowest number of natural disasters, whereas, since 2010, Pacific SIDS have been suffering the highest number. Indeed, during that period, countries in this region could expect a natural disaster more than every other year. The increasing trend displayed in the Pacific SIDS is not present in the other two regions, highlighting their particular vulnerability to natural disasters. Figure 12 shows the distribution of types of natural disasters facing SIDS.

Figure 12. Distribution of natural disasters, total from 1995 to 2020  Figure 12. Distribution of natural disasters, total from 1995 to 2020
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Note: excludes geophysical and extra-terrestrial disasters.

Biological disasters include epidemics and insect infestations; climatological include droughts and wildfires; hydrological include floods and landslides; meteorological include storms and extreme temperatures. Atlantic and Indian Ocean SIDS suffer from relatively more epidemics than the other two groups which, in turn, suffer relatively more weather-related disasters, such as hurricanes, floods and droughts.

Disasters can have varying intensities. A meaningful assessment of their impact can be obtained by looking at the numbers of people they affect, through injury, death or displacement, as well as at their economic consequences. Figure 13 shows the proportion of SIDS’ populations adversely affected by natural disasters on an annual basis. SDG indicators 1.5.1 and 11.5.1 both seek to track this number.

Figure 13. Share of population affected by natural disasters annually, 2005-2019 Figure 13. Share of population affected by natural disasters annually, 2005-2019
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Note: No data for Bahamas, Kiribati, Micronesia (the Federated States of), Nauru, São Tome and Príncipe and Tuvalu. Data exclude geophysical and extra-terrestrial disasters.

On average, Pacific SIDS can expect more than 1.7 per cent of their population to be adversely affected by a natural disaster in a year, more than four and five times the share of Caribbean and Atlantic and Indian Ocean SIDS, respectively.

From an economic perspective, Caribbean SIDS lose a greater share of their GDP due to natural disasters than either Pacific or Atlantic and Indian Ocean SIDS – more than 2.8 per cent. SDG indicators 1.5.2 and 11.5.2 track economic losses from natural disasters.

Figure 14. Share of GDP lost due to natural disasters, annual average from 1995 to 2020 Figure 14. Share of GDP lost due to natural disasters, annual average from 1995 to 2020
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This is due to the region’s high susceptibility to hurricanes, which cause extensive damage to key industries such as agriculture and tourism -—
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. Housing and infrastructure are also frequently damaged, further complicating the countries’ development.

Exacerbating natural disasters’ effects on SIDS is their lack of access to capital markets and sufficient funding due to their often already heavily indebted status (see Debt and financial risk). This handicaps their ability to respond in the aftermath of natural disasters as well as to invest in mitigation measures -—
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Unfortunately, these short-term shocks and disasters are only expected to grow in number and intensity in the coming years and decades as the effects of the climate crisis intensify. However, SIDS’ climate vulnerabilities are not limited to such salient disasters, there are a number of slower-developing risks at play as well.

Foremost among those risks is the threat of rising sea levels. Annual sea level rise over the past century has been estimated at 3mm per year in the Caribbean, and as high as 6mm per year in the Pacific -—
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. In a business-as-usual scenario, this rate may increase to 16mm per year, culminating in a total rise of 1 meter by 2100. In the Caribbean, up to 29 per cent of resort properties would be at least partially flooded if sea levels rose by this one meter, while a further 49 per cent would be affected by downstream effects of sea level rise, such as increased coastal erosion and more frequent flooding -—
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. It would have even more dire consequences for some SIDS. Under such a scenario, for instance, the entirety of the islet of Fongafale in Tuvalu, its largest and home to its capital, would be below flood level -—
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Saline intrusion into fresh water sources from sea level rise also has repercussions for SIDS’ economies and populations, as many are already water-stressed. Further loss of valuable fresh water resources threatens agricultural sectors as well as drinking water supplies -—
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Unfortunately, in some cases, rising sea levels threaten not only SIDS’ economic development and living standards, but their viability to support permanent populations -—
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Another longer-term consequence of climate change for SIDS is the adverse impact on marine ecosystems, especially coral reefs and fisheries. Warming oceans will change the diversity and quantity of fish biomass, especially in the tropics, where most SIDS are located. Sub-tropical species will move from the tropics to what were formerly temperate zones, replacing cool-water and temperate species there, while no species will replace their departure -—
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. This will have serious implications for SIDS’ fishing industries in the future. This environmental threat makes it essential that human-induced threats are addressed where possible, something that SDG indicator 14.4.1, proportion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels, draws attention to.

Warming oceans and acidification also threaten coral reefs, leading to more bleaching and destruction of marine habitats and valuable coastal breakers in SIDS. Acidification derived from the increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere affects the ability of many marine organisms to form shells, which could lead to mass extinction events for corals, shellfish, crustaceans and sea urchins, among others -—
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. This in turn could trigger cascading effects throughout the food chain, further threatening fisheries and other ocean-related economic activities. In recognition of these threats, SDG target 14.3 specifically attempts to address and minimize the impact of ocean acidification.

SIDS’ environmental vulnerabilities are not limited to global scale events, however. There are aspects of environmental degradation over which they do have control. These include issues like livestock farming practices, agricultural practices, deforestation, land use, fishing practices and other human activities like mining -—
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. SDG targets 15.1, 15.3 and 15.5 seek to specifically address terrestrial environmental sustainability, while target 14.1 seeks to address marine environment sustainability.

Carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions are the driving force behind climate change, but SIDS themselves have little scope to impact global emission levels.

Figure 15. CO<sub>2</sub> emissions per capita, regional average Figure 15. CO2 emissions per capita, regional average
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Figure 15 shows SIDS’ CO2 emissions per capita over the past 30 years. Atlantic and Indian Ocean and Pacific SIDS emit at per-capita levels consistently less than a third of those of developed economies, below even other non-SIDS developing economies. Though Caribbean SIDS emit at higher levels, they still emit significantly less per capita than developed economies. This smaller per capita footprint, combined with SIDS’ small size, led to a contribution of only 0.2 per cent to global CO2 emissions in 2016 -—
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Despite their own minimal impact on global climate change, there are still incentives and opportunities for SIDS to adopt renewable energy, as most are heavy energy importers. Many SIDS possess ample potential renewable energy sources, including extensive offshore areas for wind, wave and tidal energy generation, as well as marine biomass (algae) and submarine geothermal resources -—
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. Development of such industries could be a boon to their economies while simultaneously reducing their energy dependence and carbon footprint. Despite large potential in the sector, the situation regarding renewables in most SIDS remains under-developed, requiring investment frameworks and programmes to jump-start development -—
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. With their large potential, SIDS' renewable energy sectors may be able to contribute to achieving SDG target 7.2, substantially increasing the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

A final important aspect of climate change worth noting is the long lifespan of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That means that the warming effects of gases emitted in the past up to the present day will continue to be felt centuries into the future regardless of the curbing of present and future emissions -—
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. It is thus essential for SIDS and the global community to work not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also to invest in adaptation measures for existing in the new, warmer world.

Conclusion

The problems facing SIDS cannot be tackled unilaterally, as they are in essence global problems. As such, the continued success and attention to multilateral efforts, such as the SAMOA pathway -—
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and Paris Agreement -—
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, are paramount to the continued economic and environmental viability of SIDS. The loss of every square meter of land or coral reef and every inhabitant displaced is not just a threat to the nation where it occurs, but a threat to our shared human and natural heritage.

References
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