Taking action on climate change: islands show the way



At the forefront of the impacts of climate change, islands ask for their concerns to be heard and offer solutions and commitments towards adaptation and mitigation.

Beach of Virgin Gorda (British Virgin Islands)

Islands are on the front line of the impacts of climate change like sea level rise, ocean acidification, saltwater intrusion into the water table, drought or extreme events. Their economies are especially dependent on the natural environment, marine and terrestrial, which provide vital ecosystem services such as food (fisheries), tourism (attractive beaches, showy corals, unique habitats and wildlife), water and coastal protection (coral reefs, mangroves, seagrasses buffering the coast from storms).

Keeping these ecosystems healthy and well-functioning means addressing threats such as coastal development, invasive alien species or unsustainable visitors’ pressure and has required local political will and efforts. Now, making these systems resilient to climate change impacts is a challenge that requires cooperation at a much broader scale - regional and international.

It was estimated that by 2050, losses due to increases in sea surface temperature in British Virgin Islands could be valued at between US$ 19.4 billion and US$ 30.9 billion (341% to 1,863% of the islands’ 2008 GDP). Areas like the Caribbean and the Pacific will experience an increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones, at great economic costs: in 2004 in the Cayman Islands, Hurricane Ivan caused the greatest loss to date in at more than US$3 billion (or 183% of GDP).

For Greenland, climate change is likely to cause a decline in the amount of shrimp and affect fisheries. Changed climatic conditions will also influence the spread of invasive species. For instance, melting glaciers could increase the habitat of invasive mice and reindeer, which would put the Antarctic’s only songbird, the endemic South Georgia pipit (Anthus antarcticus), at risk.

In the statements ahead of COP21 in Paris, islands ask that their concerns be heard and also offer solutions and commitments towards addressing these impacts. Several lead by example with clear commitments to transition to renewable energies and achieve significant GHG emission reductions by 2030 - some even committing to change to 100 % renewables. And more and more prioritize nature-based solutions for adaptation efforts, recognizing how cost-effective and no-regrets solutions they are.

Almost all of EU Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories are islands with biologically important marine and coastal ecosystems. They are located in every major ocean of the world and harbour ecosystems as varied as polar seas, tropical coral reefs and sub-Antarctic kelp forests. Taking into account the critical role of theses marine ecosystems, French Polynesia is calling for a "Défi de Paris" that would, in a global partnership, foster more actions for the oceans. The role of the ocean on the climate machinery is indeed fundamental - absorbing 93% of the heat, about ¼ of CO2 emissions and thus acting as a shield and regulator.

Some of the most isolated islands reveal how little damaged an environment far away from anthropogenic impacts can be and thus their resilience capacities. They also represent key sites to study the consequences of climate change. Islands can be seen as microcosms of our planet, giving us the opportunities to observe problems and test solutions.

EU overseas entities bring significant contributions to both the study of the impacts of climate change and the development of solutions to mitigate and adapt to them. Their special links to European nations should assure that their efforts inform and improve policies at the global level - islands solutions are relevant to other areas worldwide!

Commitments and statements of islands on the way to COP 21:

  • 25 June 2014: Islands Declaration on Climate Change (Reunion Conference 2014). Leaders of island governments and regional authorities committing to:
    • Reinforce public policies enabling development of renewable energies
    • Contribute to international efforts to combat climate change and COP 21 preparation
    • Request that islands are given priority for the post-2015 international climate agenda
  •  4 September 2014: S.A.M.O.A. Pathway (SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action, 3rd SIDS 2014) Joint statement of government leaders and high-level representatives highlighting notably:
    • That SIDS are already experiencing an increase in known climate change impacts, further threatening food security and efforts to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development. Adaptation to climate change represents an immediate and urgent global priority.
    • The significant gap between the aggregate effect of mitigation pledges by parties in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with having a likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, or 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
    • The importance of climate finance in addressing climate change and, to this effect, a need for support to SIDS to address remaining gaps in capacity for gaining access to and manage climate finance.
  •  23 September 2014: The SIDS Lighthouse Initiative (Climate Summit 2014). Joint statement and concrete 5-year action plan by 25 island states and other partners for programmatic deployment of renewables to enable their energy system transformation 
  • April 2015: Lifou Declaration (3rd Oceania 21 summit, New Caledonia). Joint statement of leaders of 15 Pacific member states of the Oceania 21 Initiative to:
    • Urgently call the UNFCCC partners to get the islands’ voice to be clearly heard at the negotiating table as they are showing a way towards a stabilised climate
    • Urge UNFCCC to commit to legally binding GHG emission reduction targets, compatible with the objective in limiting global warming to <2°C or even 1.5°C
    • Call for green and blue economy and low-carbon developments
    • Commit to educate youth on CC adaptation tools, such as ecosystems and nature based projects 
  • 9 May 2015: Declaration of Fort-de-France (Caraïbe Climat 2015, Martinique)
    Joint statement of the Caribbean Community noting among others the needs to:
    • Have clarity on targets for developed countries, adaptation measures and resources as well as financial and technologial support to address CC impact and development challenges in small developing countries
    • Move away from the existing widespread practice of using GDP per capita as the primary basis for access to resources
    • Link to final declaration (in French)  
  • June 2015: Martinique Action Plan for Renewable Energy Development on Islands
    • Clear agenda with concrete actions for next steps to accelerate transition to and deployment of a renewable energy mix in small island developing states (SIDS)  
  • June 2015: Hawaii enacts a law mandating all of the state’s electricity to be from renewable sources by no later than 2045, becoming the first U.S. state to adopt such a standard 
  • 16 July 2015: Polynesian P.A.C.T. (Polynesia Against Climate Threats). Common climate declaration by the leaders of French Polynesia, Niue, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tokelau and Tuvalu, notably calling to:
    • Foster development ·of a circular and low carbon economy that is more respectful of traditional ways of living, of their environment and resources
    • Recognize the continuous Polynesian Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs > 10 million km2) as one of the biggest carbon sinks in the world like the largest forests
    • Commit to become the world's showcase for sustainable development  
  • Since July 2015: INDC from > 13 small island states (with new declarations being submitted) committing to reduce GHG emissions
    • Marshall Islands to 32% of 2010 level by 2025, hoping to reach its goal of zero emissions by 2050.
    • Comoros by 84% (441,700 metric tonnes CO2eq) in 2030 compared to current emission scenarios, provided large international investments (90% coming from the US)
    • Seychelles by 122.5 ktCO2eq (21.4%) in 2025 and estimated 188 ktCO2eq in 2030 (29.0%) relative to baseline emissions (2010 and 2012)
    • Trinidad and Tobago by 15 (103 million t CO2eq) by 2030 from 2013 emissions
    • Dominican Republic by 25% by 2030 compared to 2010 base year emissions
    • Barbados 44% compared to BAU scenario by 2030 (23% reduction compared to 2008); 65% of energy from renewables by 2030; incorporation of CC adaption into national plans and strategies
    • Grenada by 30% of 2010 by 2025, with an indicative reduction of 40% of 2010 by 2030
    • Vanuatu 100% renewable energy in electricity sub-sector (i.e. 100% GHG reduction) and 30% overall GHG reduction compared to BAU emissions
    • Maldives 10% unconditional, 26% conditional reduction (to BAU) by 2030
    • Mauritius 30% conditional GHG recuction by 2030 relative to 7 million t CO2eq projected by BAU
    • Solomon Islands 12% below 2015 level by 2025 and 30% below 2015 level by 2030 (c. To BAU), 50% GHG reduction with international assistance
    • Haïti 26% reduction (to BAU) under condition of support
    • Samoa 100% renewable energy target for electricity generation through to the year 2025; conditional on reaching the 100% renewable electricity generation target in 2017 and receiving international assistance to maintain this contribution through to 2025
    • Trinidad and Tobago by 15% by 2030 from BAU 
  • 11 September 2015 Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Declaration on Climate Change ActionCommon climate declaration by the leaders at the 46th Pacific Island Forum, laying out 13 points that Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) are calling for:
    • ambitious commitments by all Parties to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
    • recognition of the special circumstances of small island developing States (SIDS)
    • an increase of global average temperature to well below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels
    • the Polluter Pays principle to be upheld 



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