Climate governance, adaptation, and digital solutions

Key priorities for the Pacific at SIDS4

April 11, 2024

Because of climate change small island nations face an existential threat, not a distant worry.

Photo: UNDP

Let's take a moment to reflect on a critical question: In the decade since the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS3), what tangible progress have we made in addressing the challenges faced by our SIDS?

These nations are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, despite their minimal contributions. Small communities that face an existential threat, not a distant worry. The time for incremental change has passed; with decisive action required to prevent the Pacific from becoming a cautionary tale, and no longer a paradise. 

Thirty nine UN member states and 20 associate members of regional commissions are classified as SIDS and in the Pacific the UNDP’s office in Fiji covers 10 of these small islands on the frontline of multiple planetary crises.

While the Pacific shares commonalities with its fellow SIDS, it must be noted that the region faces unique vulnerabilities that distinguish it from the small islands in Africa and the Caribbean. 

Pacific SIDS have experienced progress in human development, but persistent disparities remain. We are seeing a backslide on gender equality – its worst decline in two decades – with women affected most when it comes to positions of leadership. Less than seven percent of Pacific politicians are women, compared to 27 percent globally, a figure that highlights the need for drastic change. 

Women in the market

The impacts of climate change do not discriminate. Change-makers at SIDS4 must prioritize and advocate for strengthened climate governance.

Photo: UNDP Pacific Office

Income inequality remains deeply entrenched, both within Pacific Islands countries and when comparing data from the Pacific against its fellow SIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. Addressing this disparity requires a multifaceted approach, including a just transition to clean and green energy. With oil still accounting for approximately 80 percent of the Pacific’s total energy supply, and Pacific SIDS paying more than any other region for one kilowatt of energy, a decisive shift is required to increase the usage of renewables from their present rate of just 17 percent - a must for the protection of our region’s Blue Economy, and the financial stability of many Pacific communities.

Let’s not dwell on these 10 years any longer, the chorus that rings across our Blue Pacific demands action. Let’s chart our course for the subsequent decade and ensure that the following three items are at the top of leaders’ agenda when SIDS4 commences on 27 May.

Climate governance 

The impacts of climate change do not discriminate. The reality of this ever-changing and ever-more destructive threat is an everyday obstacle for communities from Palau in the north to Tonga in the south, and every small island state in between. 

To navigate this new normal, change-makers at SIDS4 must prioritize and advocate for strengthened climate governance. Initiatives such as UNDP Pacific's Governance for Resilient Development Project offer a blueprint – fostering risk-informed, community-led decision making to ensure that every development choice considers and builds resilience to our climate's ever-present impacts. 

This focus on climate governance is no longer optional for Pacific SIDS – it’s the cornerstone of a secure future.

"We need not call for sympathy, rather we call for solutions."

We know too that with the impact of climate change becoming more frequent and more intense, adaptation is more important than ever. This urgency for adaptation is particularly evident in Tuvalu where projected sea level rise will see more than half of its capital Funafuti submerged by 2050.

For Tuvalu, adaptation is no longer a choice, it's a necessity. With limited land and rising sea levels, innovative solutions are paramount. The Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project (TCAP) takes on even greater significance in this context. By constructing new, higher land, and implementing science-based coastal protection, TCAP aims to safeguard communities and infrastructure in Funafuti, potentially becoming the only habitable area of land by 2100 – or even 2050 based on intensified climate models. This project serves as a model for coastal adaptation across the Pacific.

TCAP embodies this spirit, reimagining Pacific Island countries to ensure they are fit for the future, where not only land and livelihood are protected, but a future where cultural tradition and custom can continue to thrive.

Tuvalu water

For Tuvalu, adaptation is no longer a choice, it's a necessity. With limited land and rising sea levels, the Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project takes on even greater significance.

Photo: UNDP Pacific Office

Future trends and digital

The geographical characteristics of Pacific SIDS, with widely dispersed populations, create fundamental challenges to digital connectivity. As Pacific SIDS navigate the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, technology can serve as a tool for a sustainable future, empowering communities and upholding human rights.

While Pacific SIDS continue to strengthen their ICT infrastructure, a critical challenge of ensuring everyone benefits from these advancements remains. Unequal access to technology can deepen existing inequalities, therefore advancements in technology and their use across the Pacific can be seen as a tool to strengthen, not weaken, the region’s social fabric.

While cutting-edge technologies – including artificial intelligence – offer innovative solutions, navigating the tightrope of planning for a digital future requires a nuanced approach. 

To unlock the full potential of digital advancements for Pacific SIDS, prioritizing inclusive digital governance strategies is key. This requires policies designed around accountability, inclusion, and human rights, ensuring technology strengthens, not weakens, the social fabric.

As the world gathers for SIDS4 in Antigua and Barbuda, with the above in mind, let's reimagine the narrative for Pacific Island nations. Our vulnerabilities are undeniable, but so is our resilience