These small islands are home to vibrant and distinct cultures and heritage as well as to rich ecosystems, biodiversity and dazzling landscapes.
But the challenges these small states face are many. From Trinidad and Tobago to Tonga, Samoa to Suriname, the problems that these small islands face – climate change, waste management, unsustainable consumption, degradation of natural resources, extreme natural disasters in the midst of overpopulation and continuing industrialization – are the problems that face us all.
Climate change is foremost among these challenges, as global warming is causing ocean levels to rise. According to the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), global sea levels are rising at an increased rate which is projected to be even greater this century. When global temperature warms, seawater expands and occupies more space. Sea levels rise when ice melts as well. Coastal communities in every country are then threatened with floods and storm surges, to which these small islands are the most exposed. Many of these islands’ inhabited areas and cultural sites are potentially in danger of being lost to sea-level rise.
However, these islands have also been successful in overcoming their environmental problems. From Palau to Puerto Rico, the stories of resiliency and innovation abound. For instance, Tokelau recently began producing 100% of its energy from solar sources. In Fiji, lacking the resources to make new drainage systems and seawalls, local residents are restoring mangroves and coral reefs to help prevent flooding and erosion. These stories and solutions can be applied to environmental concerns all over the world.
The UN International Year of Small Island Developing States also seeks to raise awareness in preparation for the UN Conference on Small Island Developing States, which will be held in September 2014 in Samoa, and will focus on building partnerships for sustainable development.