Wednesday, September 3, 2014

30% of Small Island States Population Threatened By Sea Level Rise

By Marianne de Nazareth,

The horror hit like a jack hammer, while we sat through a UNFCC Congress of the Parties event in Copenhagen a few years ago. Dwarfed by the massive stage she was standing on, a little girl brought the crisis being faced by her country to the world stage. " Why must my country, The Solomon Islands be submerged and swallowed up by the sea? " she asked, " just because you richer nations do not want to cut back on your carbon emissions? What have we done to lose our country? I want my own country, I do not want to have to run away from it, incase it is swallowed up by the rising seas." He voice rang out clear and true, and I am sure many in the audience squirmed at her questions. Images of her drowning country flashed behind her and it is only then we, who do not face her problem got shaken out of our complacency.

The new Global Environment Outlook report released by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)says, Governments and the world at large are being confronted by accelerating climate change and environmental challenges to their economies and society. For many Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the experience is even more dramatic and is felt more rapidly because of their small physical scale, geographic isolation, unique biodiversity, exposure to natural hazards and disasters, high population growth coupled with outmigration and significant seasonal in-migration from tourism, limited resource base, remoteness from global markets and small economies of scale.

There are multiple drivers and pressures, beyond global economic stagnation and population growth, affecting the outlooks for SIDS. These include vulnerability to climate change, local access to water, nutrition and food security, energy and transport demand, exploitation of natural resources, local sectoral development, poor management of waste and pollution, coastal squeeze and loss of ecological resilience. SIDS are also threatened by a range of emerging issues, such as social disintegration, and in some instances the disappearance of their national territory.

SIDS in the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Sea region, range from the volcanic archipelago of Cape Verde with a semi-desert climate, the savannah and mangrove swamps of Guinea Bissau and the rugged volcanic rocks of São Tomé and Principe located off the west coast of Africa, to the coral islands of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, to the urbanized-tropical rainforest mix of Singapore. All face significant threats from climate change, sea level rise and natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, heavy rains, floods and drought. Many have globally high endemism, and are home to important marine resources including sea turtles and dugongs. With the exception of the wealthy Singapore, these are among the poorest countries in the world.

Invasive species

Marine invasive species have become a focus of concern in many SIDS. In less than a decade, the Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans) has become widely established in the southeast United States and throughout the Caribbean. This highly predatory fish is spreading rapidly and reducing the abundance of key herbivores, thus altering fish communities in reefs. Lionfish occupy the same trophic position as economically important species (e.g. snapper and grouper) and may hamper stock rebuilding efforts and coral reef conservation measures. Longer-term impacts of lionfish abundance could be growth rate reduction of the wave breaking reef crests, which help to protect coastlines from erosion. Across the Caribbean, people are being encouraged to consume lionfish as a means to lower their numbers.

The blue-green economy

Small Island Developing States Need ‘Blue-Green Economy' Innovations to Adapt to Climate Change Island Nations at a Crucial Turning Point, says the new Global Environment Outlook report released by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). SIDS have in short to learn to help themselves and the report brings out various measures which are critical to SIDS self sufficiency.

According to the report, a blue-green economic strategy, that targets resource efficiency and clean technology, is carbon neutral and socially inclusive, will stimulate economic stability, facilitate job creation, provide a clean and healthy environment and help conserve resources. By focussing on balanced development and the linkages between small-scale fisheries and aquaculture, water, tourism, renewable energy and waste, some of the most critical challenges facing SIDS, such as land and water scarcity, dependence on imported energy, high costs of waste management and the vulnerability of the key sectors, can be addressed.

Cultured pearl farming

Today, cultured pearl farming in the Pacific offers an economic activity in which sound environmental management and conservation are prerequisites to economic success. Pearl oysters are remarkably sensitive organisms and environmental deterioration or sudden ecological changes affect the oyster and hamper its potential for producing a high-quality pearl.

Estimates suggest that 95% of a pearl farm's income comes from only 2% of its pearls. The more pristine an environment, the healthier the oysters are and the higher the likelihood of harvesting valuable, high-quality pearls.

Pearl farming can be carried out in isolated islands where there are otherwise very limited economic opportunities. Cultured pearls have become important economic pillars in French Polynesia and the Cook Islands as a major source of export revenue. In French Polynesia, pearl farming has reduced pressure on fish stocks, stemmed outer-island emigration, and provided economic alternatives for an economy otherwise heavily reliant on French financial assistance and tourism. At its peak in 2000, the pearl sector provided employment to 7,000 people in French Polynesia. In the Cook Islands, black pearl production is carried out within existing forms of indigenous socio-economic organization.

Small-scale pearl farming contributes so effectively to ecosystem health that it has been sanctioned inside of marine protected areas, such as off Pakin in the Federated States of Micronesia. Now a new integrated marine plan is being implemented in which pearl farming is compensating for the lost income that artisanal reef fishing communities have incurred due to the introduction of no-fishing zones and marine protected areas. This new source of income has created an incentive for conservation by reducing pressure on reef fish stocks, and is increasing the resilience of these communities in the face of climate change.

“Small Island Developing States presently face a number of major challenges and hardships,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “Many suffer from isolation and high costs associated with long distances from global markets, and lag behind in the adoption of new technologies and innovation. Growing populations concentrated in urban areas are putting stress on island resources and the health effects of unsafe water, poor sanitation and increasingly unhealthy diets. Meanwhile, climate change threatens biodiversity, livelihoods and even the very existence of some island nations.”

“As the world enters the post-2015 era, significant changes both in global policy and on islands themselves were identified by the GEO expert teams from SIDS. Improvements in line with the blue-green economy would include, among other things, economic diversification, economic approaches to improve the management of biodiversity, resource efficiency, and sustainable consumption and production,” he added.

Along with the blue-green economy outlook, the report recommends an ensemble of three other island-centric elements: “technology leapfrogging”, priority to island community and culture and reconnecting with nature.

A blue-green economy outlook requires the development of economic tools to improve the management of biodiversity, using indigenous and local knowledge in decision-making and monitoring. Such tools as the UN System of Environmental and Economic Accounting, natural capital accounting, payment for ecosystem services and carbon trading schemes would contribute to establishing the “right” market prices for natural resources.

information and communication technologies

The report also suggests that SIDS should envisage rapid technological innovation, especially in information and communication technologies, that will help overcome island isolation, create new ways of maintaining social and cultural ties across the island diaspora and help evolve new economic activities.

Some of the hallmarks of technological leapfrogging in the context of SIDS include Information and Communication Technology (ICT) enablement for the benefit of society, phasing out of inefficient technologies and increasing the penetration of renewable sources of energy and materials, as well as the use of traditional knowledge to create scale-appropriate technologies.

Digital technologies have enormous potential to benefit everyday life in SIDS and to tackle disaster risk management and a variety of social challenges. A digital agenda, focused on ICT capabilities to support social cohesion and connectivity, will help improve access to information, reduce energy consumption, support citizen's lives, revolutionize health services and deliver better public services.

Brain circulation

SIDS will continue to face many challenges when dealing with climate change. For example, in the western Pacific –where the rates of sea level rise on islands such as Tuvalu and Funafuti have been recorded up to 3 times the global average of 2.8-3.6 mm/year – islands are susceptible to extreme sea level events such as storm surges and tidal waves.

In order to deal with such challenges, a very high level of skill and education will be required. Therefore, policies should encouraging “brain circulation”, or the return of skilled people who have emigrated away from the island. In addition, traditional knowledge and activities such as fishing can be combined with other sectors to create new business opportunities.

Healthy traditional and modern elements

There is great potential among SIDS to encourage a healthy island culture combining traditional and modern elements, evolving with the times while maintaining roots in island heritage. Each island community and culture should select what it wants from globalization within island limits, without being passive consumers.

Giving priority to island community and culture involves the promotion of participatory community and indigenous conservation and management; communities that are resilient; widespread collective action and partnership and the development of an island-centric demand side in the global marketplace; and education that has sustainability at its core.

Among participatory and community approaches described in the report is that of building community resilience as a key element in successful climate change adaptation and risk management.

This involves four critical strategies: building coping capacities to withstand and counteract shocks; strengthening existing and developing new early warning systems; strengthening disaster risk reduction capacity in SIDS, for example, through ecosystem-based adaptation such as restoring beaches and mangroves; and actively engaging the international community in reducing the anthropogenic causes of the increased frequency of extreme events, including global warming and environmental degradation.

Reconnecting with nature

Connections with nature have long been important to island peoples. In a blue-green economy outlook scenario, traditional knowledge of the environment would be combined with modern science to increase the integration and harvestable capacity of island ecosystems to restore biodiversity. Coral reef growth could be maintained by careful management and supported by citizen science and monitoring.

A number of SIDS have emphasized improving management and expansion of protected areas (PAs) as a strategy for dealing with biodiversity loss. Between 1990 and 2009, however, only a handful of SIDS showed an increase of over 4 per cent in protected areas. A related strategy is the promotion and implementation of community or indigenous conservation and management areas, which respect and incorporate local and indigenous knowledge.

Similarly, empowering local communities and devolving power to them for managing and restoring forested areas has proven effective in places like Palau and Vanuatu.

The report recommends investments in organic agricultural policies and agritourism – which connects sustainable agriculture with tourism – as ways to increase food self-sufficiency, and notes that many SIDS are already successfully investing money in improving and developing water and wastewater treatment infrastructure. It also stresses that, as part of a blue-green economy outlook, SIDS should place themselves at the forefront of sound coastal zone management policies.

Hopefully all this does help SIDS recover and not just slip under the sea and be a lost home to that little girl forever.