Islands are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. They are often densely populated, yet face rising sea levels, water scarcity and natural disasters such as storms and floods. But regional governments and island states also have ample opportunities to lead on both adaptation and mitigation and are often already doing so.
In order to address these challenges and opportunities, the International Conference “Islands and Climate Change: Opportunities, Resilience, Adaptation” was hosted last week by the French overseas Regional Council of La Réunion in collaboration with the Climate Group (TCG), the R20 coalition of regions and IUCN.
The three-day conference was attended by high-level representatives of Sri Lanka, France (La Réunion, Mayotte, Guadeloupe), India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Korea, Mauritius, Seychelles, Catalonia, South Australia, ASEAN, and the Indian ocean commission, as well as international organisations including the European Commission, the UN, IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency), and NRG4SD (Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development).
During his official opening speech, Didier Robert, President of La Réunion, pointed to the important role of the conference to address the difficult situation of islands. “I remind you that this international conference that brings us together today is a special and strong opportunity to make the voice of island territories heard, the voice of all these small islands that find themselves at the forefront of climate change,” he said.
President Robert thanked IUCN for its contribution, and announced that La Réunion had tabled its official application to join the organisation. He also emphasized his administration’s commitment to systematically integrate the dimension of sustainable development into all actions, both for the sake of the current population and future generations.
Other speakers in the opening session included the special envoy of President Hollande Nicolas Hulot, actress and film director Melanie Laurent, and Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group, and Luc Bas, Director of IUCN’s EU Representative Office in Brussels.
In his keynote speech, Luc Bas emphasized the crucial role that healthy ecosystems play in helping, especially islands, adapt to the effects of climate change. If adaptation policies and programs are to be effective, they must integrate efforts to sustain and restore ecosystem functions and promote human rights under changing climate conditions.
“Nature’s solutions are at our fingertips, yet we often ignore them. The restoration and protection of ecosystems increase resilience and reduce the vulnerability of both people and the environment to climate change,” said Luc Bas. “The further we allow our world’s ecosystems to degrade, the more vulnerable we will be to the challenges we are facing.”
Climate change adaptation is an urgent priority for many island states and regional governments, yet funding is limited, so the implementation of available and affordable solutions is crucial. Often, the solutions that nature provides are cost-effective and more relevant to local communities, especially in developing countries. This includes measures such as integrated water management, sustainable forest management interventions and the use of natural flood defenses, among others.
The leaders from island governments and regional authorities present at the conference initiated an ‘Islands Declaration on Climate Change’, showing their commitment to act on climate change but also emphasizing their vulnerability and its effects on ecosystems and exceptional biodiversity, and calling for the international community to support their adaptation efforts both financially and institutionally.
In 2010, IUCN launched its EU Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories Programme to raise awareness of Europe overseas' biodiversity and climate change issues with the EU and the international community, to actively promote collaboration, and to build the capacity of Europe overseas in the areas of biodiversity conservation and climate change adaptation.
Currently, IUCN is implementing 45 Ecosystem based Adaptation related projects in 58 countries throughout the world.
In October 2014, an international conference on biodiversity and climate change in the European overseas territories is set to take place in Guadeloupe, a French overseas region in the Caribbean. This event is aiming at assessing the Message from Reunion Island, adopted in 2008, on biodiversity and climate change and defining key recommendations for the design of a new roadmap for actions.