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Rising sea levels threaten small island nations: UNEP

Jun 09, 2014

Climate change will have a harsher impact on small island states, says a new UNEP report.

Bridgetown/New Delhi: A new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has found that sea level rise  caused by climate change in the world's 52 Small Island Developing States (SIDS) is estimated to be up to four times the global average, seriously putting their environment and socio-economic development at risk.

According to the report titled ‘SIDS Foresight Report’, these small island nations are expected to incur losses worth trillions of dollars due to increased vulnerability and therefore, an immediate shift in policies and investment towards renewable energy and green economic growth is required to avoid exacerbating these impacts.   

The report identifies climate change impacts and related sea-level rise as the chief concern impacting the environmental resilience and sustainable development prospects of SIDS.

Launched in Bridgetown on World Environment Day, the report warns that the magnitude and frequency of many weather and climate-related hazards will increase as global warming accelerates and may disproportionately affect multiple sectors in small island states like tourism, agriculture, energy, etc., unless ocean-based green economy approaches and policy options are put into action.

Moreover, in all SIDS regions, coral reefs, which are at the forefront of climate change adaptation, are already severely impacted by rising sea surface temperatures. Currently, the global net loss of the coral reef cover is around 34 million hectares and SIDS are most severely affected by this loss.

However, the report also demonstrates that SIDS can transition to an inclusive green economy and ensure a sustainable prosperous future by taking advantage of opportunities in areas such as renewable energy, sustainable exploration of unexploited resources, developing an ocean-based green economy and leading the world in the development of inclusive indicators that go beyond Gross Domestic Product to include natural resources.

A second report, the Barbados Green Economy Scoping Study, also launched by UNEP on World Environment Day, provides a practical roadmap for policymakers and businesses on the greening of tourism, agriculture, fisheries, building or housing and transportation in Barbados, lessons that can also be applied in other SIDS.

A cross-cutting issue identified in the SIDS Foresight Report is the need to develop appropriate growth indicators that take into account climate change, poverty, natural resource depletion, human health, and quality of life.

According to the report, GDP-based indicators do not consider many of the features of small and limited economies, like those of SIDS, and given their particular vulnerabilities, it is imperative that sustainable development indicators are applied to track accurately the growth of these states.

SIDS vulnerability to climate change and sea-level rise is magnified due to their relatively small land masses, population concentrations, and high dependence on coastal ecosystems for food, livelihood, security and protection against extreme events.

The report calls on the international community to gear up actions towards reducing climate change impacts, especially in SIDS, and to adopt a legally binding agreement that includes clear ambitious targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

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