Small Island nations at the frontline of climate action

Sep 18, 2017

Caye Caulker Island in Belize. © Falco Ermert

New York, September 18 – Climate change affects development of all nations, regardless of location or size of economy. Yet, no other group of nations is more vulnerable to its devastating effects than the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). With one-third of their population living on land, that is less than five meters below sea level, the threat of sea level rise, storm surges, and coastal destruction pose existential risks to SIDS. 

While contributing less than 1 per cent to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, these countries are among the first to experience the worst and most devastating impacts of climate change with greater risks to economies, livelihoods, and food security. Yet, despite serious threats and challenges, the SIDS continue to demonstrate global leadership across the areas of climate change, disaster risk reduction, and sustainable development.

“Climate change is a security issue and a survival issue for our countries, as we are witnessing right now with the impacts of Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean,” said Enele Sopoaga, Hon. Prime Minister of Tuvalu, speaking at the high-level political event, organized by UNDP, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the European Union, and the Government of Fiji, coinciding with the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

The event discussed the global leadership of these nations in reducing carbon emissions, adapting to climate impacts, reducing and recovering from disasters, and accelerating progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

All SIDS have submitted their intended climate commitments under the Paris Agreement, the so-called intended Nationally Determined Contributions (iNDCs), and a significant number of the countries have joined forces, under the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), to both, advance action and push the global community to be more ambitious, planning whenever and wherever possible.

“Every action in response to the threat of climate change has enormous impacts in development, and also brings enormous returns to investment,” noted Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator. “It is my strategic focus to ensure that in addressing climate change we are also addressing development”.

The event officially launched the report jointly with AOSIS, Rising Tides, Rising Capacity: supporting a sustainable future for Small Island Developing States, providing inspirational results from a UNDP-AOSIS Project and concerted action on climate change.

This year Fiji will serve as the 23rd Conference of the Parties on climate change (COP23) —the first SIDS to do so. UNDP is currently supporting the Fiji COP Presidency, helping to ensure a successful outcome at the conference in Bonn, Germany in November.

UNDP’s overall climate portfolio in SIDS is approximately US$1 billion over each 4-year cycle, including two new projects from the Green Climate Fund in the Maldives and Tuvalu. UNDP also works closely with SIDS on disaster risk reduction, helping to map risk-zones and put in place early warning systems in both the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Other distinguished speakers at the event included H.E. Dr. Mohamed Asim, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Maldives, Mr. Inia Seruiratu, High-Level Climate Champion and Fijian Minister for Agriculture, Ms. Fekitamoeloa Katoa Utoikamanuc, Under Secretary General of OHRLLS, Ms. Yvon Slingenberg, Director General for Climate Action, European Union and the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda, Sir Rodney Williams.

About the SIDS:

The SIDS comprise the following UN member states: Antigua and Barbuda; Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Cabo Verde; Comoros; Cuba; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Fiji; Grenada; Guinea-Bissau; Guyana; Haiti; Jamaica; Kiribati; Maldives; Marshall Islands; Mauritius; Micronesia (Federated States of); Nauru; Palau; Papua New; Guinea; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Samoa; Sao Tomé and Principe; Seychelles; Singapore; Solomon Islands; Suriname; Timor-Leste; Tonga; Trinidad and Tobago; and Tuvalu.

They were recognized as a distinct group of countries with peculiar social, environmental, and economic vulnerabilities at the 1992 Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro. The ‘Future We Want’ outcome document adopted at the Rio+ 20 Conference of 2012 reinforced that the unique vulnerability of the SIDS countries is due to ‘their small size, remoteness, narrow resource and export base, and exposure to global environmental challenges’.

Key facts:

  • 26.2 per cent of land area less than five meters above sea level (average)
  • 29.3 per cent of population living at less than five meters above sea level (average)
  • 24,111 km2 in total land area (only 3.5 per cent of area is land; 96.5 per cent of area is ocean)
  • 666,110 km2 in Exclusive Economic Zones

Photo: Caye Caulker Island in Belize. © Falco Ermert

Contact information

Francisco Filho (UNDP) at or + 1 646 717 4356

Carl Mercer (UNDP) at or +1 347 652 5933


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