The result of a warming climate, sea level rise is threatening small island nations and marine ecosystems that feed and provide livelihoods for billions of people around the world. Sea levels across the world’s 52 small island developing states (SIDS) are rising at up to four times the global average, and rising greenhouse gas emissions, which intensify the greenhouse effect, are the main culprit, according to report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released on World Environment Day, June 5.
Barriers to storms as well as nurseries and habitat for a tremendous diversity of marine life, coral reefs are on the front lines of climate change. A net of some 34 million hectares (~84 million acres) of coral reef cover has been lost over two decades. That according to estimates, will cost the international community an estimated $11.9 trillion, with SIDS affected disproportionately.
According to UNEP’s “SIDS Foresight Report,” “An immediate shift in policies and investment towards renewable energy and green economic growth is required to avoid exacerbating these impacts.”
SIDS, sea level rise & climate change vulnerability
Sea level rise and other impacts of climate change are identified as the chief concern among 20 emerging issues affecting the ecological resilience and sustainable development prospects of SIDS in UNEP’s “SIDS Foresight Report.” Others include coastal squeeze, land capacity, invasive alien species an threats from chemical pollution and waste.
Commenting on the study’s findings, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner stated, “Rio+20 emphasized that SIDS have unique vulnerabilities and require special attention during the evolution of the sustainable development agenda in order to achieve the gains required to lift people out of poverty, create green jobs and provide sustainable energy for all.
“For example, these 52 nations, home to over 62 million people, emit less than one per cent of global greenhouse gases, yet they suffer disproportionately from the climate change that global emissions cause.”
Expressing optimism in the face of great threat and challenges, he continued,
“Fortunately, studies demonstrate that we have the tools and capabilities to head off future developmental setbacks. It is up to the international community to supports SIDS – not least through building momentum towards a robust climate agreement – to be agreed in 2015, which will cut emissions and minimize the threat of climate change for these nations.”
The “Barbados Green Economy Study”
Weather and climate-related risks and threats will intensify over the course of the 21st century – for small island nations especially – as much of climate change is already “locked in” due to the build-up of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere that has taken place over the past 150 years, the report authors highlight. That’s going to disrupt all ecosystems and every sector of the economy and society, “from tourism, agriculture and fisheries to energy, freshwater, health and infrastructure, unless ocean-based green economy approaches and policy options are put into action,” they state.
UNEP launched a second report on June 5, World Environment Day in Bridgetown. The “Barbados Green Economy Study” lays out “a roadmap for policy makers and businesses on the greening of tourism, agriculture, fisheries, building/housing and transportation in Barbados – lessons that can also be applied in other SIDS,” UNEP explains.
Commenting on the report, Barbados’ Prime Minister Freundel Stuart stated,
“The issue of the Green Economy is of particular importance to Barbados given our national commitment to advance an inclusive sustainable development paradigm – in the process creating a Barbados that is socially balanced, economically viable and environmentally sound.
“The policy, investment and research proposals contained in the Green Economy Scoping Study will not be confined to a shelf. This can be witnessed in the integration of the green economic policy proposals into the new Barbados Growth and Development Strategy, and the mobilization of major investments that harmonize with the green economy in areas such as agriculture, tourism, waste, and water.”