Posted October 1999
While most SIDS have a total population between 100 000 and 700 000 inhabitants, six countries have a population of less than 100 000 (the lowest being the Cook Islands - 19,343 inhabitants) and six countries have a population exceeding one million (the highest being Cuba - 11 million). Population growth rate varies from a minimum of 0.24 percent (Barbados) to a maximum of 3.56 percent (Comoros). All except five of the SIDS have a land area of less than 30 000 square km (the largest SIDS is Papua New Guinea - 451 710 square km).
SIDS may comprise a single island (e.g. Barbados), a few islands (e.g. Cape Verde - 15), numerous islands (e.g. Maldives - 1 200), or a low-lying coastal state (e.g. Suriname). Terrain varies from low oceanic islands, including atolls and reef islands, to high volcanic, limestone or continental islands (including low-lying coastal states). Many SIDS are located in the tropics and fall within the influence of tropical storms and cyclones. Therefore, they are prone to extreme weather events, and most are influenced by the El Niņo Southern Oscillation (and associated high inter-annual variations in rainfall) and long-term increase in mean sea level.
Economic activities are frequently dominated by specialized agriculture (e.g. sugar) and by tourism, both of which are influenced by climatic factors. Primary production (agriculture, forestry and capture fisheries) is an important source of export earnings in many SIDS but much of agricultural activity is of subsistence type. The resource base for agriculture (arable land, permanent crops, meadows and pastures) vary from 0.3 percent (Suriname) to 73 percent (Tonga) of land use. The contribution of the agricultural sector to the GDP varies from 1 percent (Bahrain) to 50 percent (Samoa). Forests and woodlands are economically important in about one third of SIDS, where they occupy 40 percent to 94.4 percent of land use. SIDS maritime claims, however, are very large (especially in the Pacific) and extend to approximately one-sixth of the earth surface. Marine resources are not limited to fish resources but include also mineral deposits and hydrocarbons.
Pressure put on land leads to erosion that is often accelerated by natural disasters, deforestation, inappropriate agricultural practices, and pollution. Precious arable land is lost to erosion (e.g. 15 000 ha/year in Haiti ). Many SIDS cities lack adequate treatment of solid wastes and waste recycling is still in its early stages and not yet economically viable. The extraction and refinement of mineral resources such as gold (Fiji), manganese (Vanuatu), bauxite (Haiti), phosphate (Nauru) and oil (Trinidad and Tobago) exacerbate pollution. Islands with sloping areas have little access to appropriate technologies to extend land use for sustainable farming on steep slopes.
Land use planning and management should capitalize on customary cultures. Traditional, value-based, decision-making systems can be successfully reinforced with technical decision-support and information systems, and land use negotiation and conflict management. An integrated approach to planning and management of resources can be achieved through comprehensive land-use plans. In Pacific SIDS, integrated approaches to resource management are identified within the framework of National Environment Management Strategies. More specifically, multi-purpose resource management (for example, forests) and integrated and diversified production systems enhance sustainable natural resources conservation and use while increasing resilience.
The main causes of deforestation include conversion of forested land to agricultural use and for infrastructure development. Some SIDS are experiencing significant forest degradation due to over-exploitation of their timber resources. Timber production represents a large percentage of some SIDS export revenues (56 percent in Solomon Islands in 1993) and has an evident economic value. It is important, however, to recognize that, even when SIDS are poorly endowed with forest resources, trees (such as on agricultural lands or agroforestry systems) often play a very important role for soil conservation (especially on less fertile soils such as in coral-based SIDS), fresh water circulation and local livelihoods. Deforestation and forest degradation affect not only the socio-economic well-being of local populations but also the environmental conditions on the islands and the surrounding marine ecosystems. Although forests such as mangroves and tidal forests have an important role in the marine food web and in protecting coastal habitats, they are increasingly being lost to tourism and land development.
Loss of forests in SIDS may have far more serious impacts than in other larger countries due to intensified interactions within a limited geographical space and to the loss of endemic species and rare ecosystems. In addition, the protective functions of forests are particularly important in many SIDS.
The valuation of goods and services provided by forests (e.g. timber and non-timber forest products, habitat for biological diversity, watershed protection, and carbon sequestration) can demonstrate the economic value of forests and assist decision-making and land-use planning. Given the multiple uses and functions of forests in SIDS, there is need for national forest policies to be integrated better into larger natural resources management frameworks at the national level.
Because of their small size and high level of endemism, biodiversity in SIDS is among the most threatened in the world. Deforestation, unsustainable forestry, fisheries and agricultural practices, unmanaged tourism, introduction of exotic species, mining (especially of coral), pollution and natural events (e.g. hurricanes) are the main threats to biodiversity. In particular, global warming and sea level rise pose significant hazards to many SIDS because of the consequently reduced land area. Habitat destruction is also due to inevitable infrastructure development such as urban settlements, industries, ports, and anti-erosion coastal protection works.
Measures to mitigate biodiversity losses require a more general effort to combat environmental degradation and pollution. Agro-biodiversity and the status and trends of biological diversity in natural ecosystems (e.g. forests, aquatic ecosystems and living aquatic resources) need to be assessed as well as mechanisms for the equitable sharing of benefits from the conservation and use of genetic resources. Community-based management systems and related land and fishing rights in supporting food systems are important. Biodiversity conservation should therefore build on customary land and reef tenure systems. Additional conservation strategies may need to be employed, such as marine protected areas and habitat restoration.
Several SIDS (e.g. Bahrain, Barbados, Cape Verde, Malta) experience fresh water shortage. In atoll countries in particular, the water supply and demand is critical. The lack of effective delivery systems and waste treatment, coupled with population growth and expanding tourism, contribute to water over-abstraction and contamination (e.g. Haiti does not yet have a centralized system of water collection and treatment, nor a facility for water quality analysis). Sea-level rise and tidal variation contribute to salt-water intrusion in already scarce water resources.
Efficient water use and management is closely linked with land use, waste recycling and treatment, and resolving conflicts between competitive and antagonistic uses of water. Freshwater consumption trends and forecasts, and development and management responses should consider the water requirements of all sectors, including agriculture. There is need for an integrated policy approach (with the attendant legislation and institutional framework) that involves all economic sectors.
Freshwaters and associated habitats are important not only because they provide for freshwater fish production, based on available living aquatic resources, but also because they can be very significant due to characteristic or distinct patterns of aquatic biodiversity and aquatic genetic resources found in such water bodies. Changes in freshwater habitats may affect freshwater fish production and aquatic biodiversity.
Reef ecosystems are highly sensitive to temperature changes as a consequence of global warming. In particular, there is an increased incidence of coral bleaching associated with elevated water temperature. In 1998, abnormally high sea temperatures are thought to have bleached and killed much of the corals in the Indian Ocean (Maldives has been particularly impacted), and also in many areas of the Western and Eastern Pacific. The survival of coral reefs to temperature and salinity changes is further threatened by human stresses such as nutrient loading and pollution, sedimentation from land-based activities and damage from anchoring of boats. Habitat destruction and pollution of lagoons is already leading to fish stock declines throughout the Pacific.
Further degradation of critical marine habitats and resources should be prevented through the establishment of marine reserves and sound management of resources, possibly through community-based and ecosystem-oriented approaches. National legislation could be enacted to protect inshore fisheries from over-exploitation. However, enforcement of fishery regulations is often difficult.
Lack of food storage capacity (e.g. refrigeration) is one of the main limitations of the local fishing industry. In order to pay for imported petroleum, SIDS have to increase exports of timber, cash crops and marine products. Thus, deforestation, land degradation, and overfishing could be partly attributed to shortages of energy. Collection of firewood causes direct damage to mangroves. Oil products and their wastes (that leak during shipping, handling, storage or electricity generation) pollute marine and coastal waters, land and groundwaters.
With population growth and gradual change from subsistence economies to monetary systems and improved living standards, energy demand is projected to increase, especially in the form of electricity. Efficient use of petroleum and biomass fuels is constrained by limited technology and investments, and reduced recycling of waste and by-products. SIDS potential for solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, ocean thermal conversion and wave energy can be tapped by developing renewable energy technologies and also investing in conventional energy conservation.
Energy from biomass, in the form of fuelwood and agricultural residues, is a feasible energy source in many SIDS (e.g. about 50 percent of total energy use in the Pacific). Besides partly substituting fossil fuels, bioenergy plantations can offer opportunities to rehabilitate degraded lands and can provide a means to combat soil erosion on croplands. In addition, their role in carbon sequestration is substantial. In many SIDS, the high energy consumption and environmental problems posed by the sugar industry could be turned into sustainable energy systems through the production of ethanol.
Making renewable energy available would result in advantages in several ways: it would increase the available energy supply (e.g. in Fiji and Samoa, a large proportion of electricity is generated from small hydropower systems); it would increase employment and income opportunities in rural areas and outer islands (e.g. new avenues for processing seafood); it would improve communication; it would alleviate problems of water supply (solar photovoltaic electric pumps for drinking water already exist in some islands); and it would contribute to reducing pollution (e.g. in the Cook Islands solar electrified pumps are used to dispose of sewage effluent in suitable land areas) .
Search for employment opportunities and services drives internal migration towards cities (in Tonga, two thirds of the population is urban). Cities are experiencing a growth twice to three times higher than rural areas. Extremes of dense and sparse settlements constrain the rational use of natural resources (e.g. lagoons and urban areas throughout the Pacific are polluted by faecal coliform, raising public health concerns). High population mobility does not only apply to rural-urban migration but also to other rural destinations (associated with short-term labour migration) and international migration. International migration causes a continuous brain-drain in SIDS but also relieves population pressure (and hence, the demand for provision of employment and services) and generates remittances.
Removing constraints on agricultural and rural development could decrease migration and encourage a more even population distribution, thus reducing the pressure on resources in crowded places (i.e. urban areas) and the resulting ecological damage.
SIDS population analysis for sustainable development should take into account the balance between high human fertility and actual decreased growth rate due to migration, the relatively young active population and corresponding costs for their introduction into the labour market, and the additional pressure on natural resources brought by the tourist residents. Population distribution, structure and mobility have direct links with environment and development. Population scenarios should be incorporated in such plans in order to indicate needs and project demand. This sectoral integration should be coupled with improved national capacity for demographic analysis and strategic planning.
When population is small such as in SIDS, government functions tend to be very expensive per capita due to the fact that certain expenses are not divisible in proportion to the number of users. The difficulty of a sophisticated division of labour (again due to the small population base) is further compounded by brain-drain when specialists develop. Thus, migration and limited availability of funds for training constitute continuous constraints to institutional capacity. Limited scientific infrastructure and technical skills, together with limited human resources, are therefore not commensurate with needs for environmental management and technological innovations.
36. Geographic distances, and economic and demographic dynamics pose major challenges that require a special effort for capacity-building and to retain qualified staff. National institutions could be strengthened, where possible, by regional efforts, following common priorities, to use efficiently resources and information, including traditional knowledge and scientifically-qualified personnel. Regional cooperation is an effective means to reduce certain costs per unit which tend to be high in a small economy.
The environmental goods and services of mangroves, tidal forests, sea grass systems, coral reefs, and lagoons are important to the whole island ecosystem. Coral reefs provide valuable functions such as: supply of sand to beaches (and for construction materials) and the formation and maintenance of islands; they are habitats for a variety of marine communities and are major reservoirs of biodiversity; they are centres of primary production by serving as spawning and nursery grounds for numerous reef fish; provision of in situ commercial fishery resources; consolidation and protection of the shoreline by acting as protective barriers to beaches and coasts and by reflecting and dissipating incident wave energy. Functions of mangroves and other coastal forests include: holding soils (which is of prime importance in cases of limestone and coral base islands); providing feeding, breeding and nursery grounds for fisheries; protecting sea grass beds and coral reefs from sediment run-offs; acting as buffers against strong winds, rainfall and storm surges; and protecting agricultural lands from salt sprays.
These environmental goods and services are vital to SIDS survival and ought to be accounted for within development plans. Increased awareness of their value to economic sectors and social well-being would facilitate incorporating environmental measures into sector planning, allocating necessary resources for natural resource conservation and improving decision-making processes for sustainable development.
SIDS geographic location and size accounts for their ecological fragility, particularly to inclemency of weather (e.g. tropical storms) and geological forces (e.g. volcanic eruptions) because when damage occurs, it occurs on a national scale. Epidemics introduced from outside quickly devastate fragile ecosystems and put endemic species at particular risk of extinction. Land erosion, as a result of sea waves and winds, is higher than in other countries because of relatively larger exposure of coasts in relation to land mass. The adverse impact of economic activities (that pervade the entire land area) on the natural environment is felt more than in other countries.
SIDS are subject to cumulative vulnerability to changes in frequency or intensity of extreme events (e.g. floods, droughts, hurricanes, storm surges), other natural hazards (e.g. volcanoes), and anthropogenic stress. Disasters exacerbate economic vulnerability because they create additional costs and divert resources from directly productive activities, let alone when they disrupt the whole economy. Counteracting vulnerability requires a capacity to adapt and to increase resilience that depends on certain features of the economic system. Thus, economic and environmental vulnerability are inter-twined.
It is important to note, however, that the impact of climate change by itself is not the greatest threat but it can seriously impinge on collective goods and systems (e.g. food and water security, biodiversity, human health and safety) in conjunction with other stresses, particularly where the adaptive capacity of natural ecosystems has been reduced by anthropogenic actions. Another aspect of climate change that is pertinent to SIDS is that many of the forcing mechanisms and mitigatory actions are external to SIDS. This highlights the need for properly implemented international agreements such as the Convention on Climate Change.
Within its efforts to improve farmers' capacity to reduce risk and make optimal use of climate variability, FAO develops and improves techniques to increase soil moisture storage, provides advice to farmers on the basis of current weather monitoring (contingency planning and response farming), and assists rural populations in achieving greater resilience and food security under short- and medium-term climate variations. More emphasis is to be given on research and the extension of more flexible farming systems that are tolerant to climatic stresses and variability. The FAO "no regret" approach emphasises measures that should be taken anyway - even in the absence of climate change - because they improve the efficiency of present farming and at the same time, put farmers in a better position to adapt to, or to mitigate, climate variability.
With appropriate supplementation strategies and livestock management, methane production can be decreased. Silvo-pastoral systems not only can reduce methane release but also can contribute to carbon fixation, due to deeper root systems and woody material. In arable farming and grazing, losses of nitrogen-containing nutrients as gases have important impacts on the atmosphere of the huge amounts involved and the catalytic effect of some nitrogenous gases. Improved land and water management techniques in response farming can facilitate the soil/plant/atmosphere exchanges for higher food production that reduce the adverse impact of losses and abatement of emissions.
Forest resources assessment in support to climate change includes generation of information and provision of methodologies and standards. National estimates of forest area and deforestation rates as well as forest volumes and biomass have been assessed in 1995 and are forthcoming for the year 2000. In addition, reports on land cover change processes, biomass fluxes and their trends are established for the period 1990 and 2000. As a contribution to climate change studies and related policies in land use change and forestry, national forest area by ecological zones have been estimated, for use as default values in absence of (better) national data, along with definitions of standards and suggested monitoring methodologies. Particular attention is also given to capacity-building for establishing internationally accepted standards and definitions and developing methodologies to estimate forest area and land cover change, biomass densities (for forest and other land cover types) and biomass fluxes resulting from land cover change.
AOSIS is of the view that SIDS have particular technology needs to address climate change issues that focus on modifying mitigation technologies that are low cost, proven, highly secure and offer environmental benefits. To this end, there is need to share and transfer publicly-owned technologies and establish funding arrangements under multi-lateral environment agreements.
Climate change "adaptation" technologies include essentially renewable energy, energy conservation and efficiency requirements, and mitigation measures for saline water intrusion and change in ocean temperature. SIDS are at different stages of their national assessments of their vulnerability to climate change and the potential methods for adaptation to climate change. More in-depth studies, research and analysis are required for more accurate assessments at national and regional levels.
2. Published in the 1997 State of the World Forests.
3. Source: Yu X. and R. Taplin, 1998. "Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development in the Pacific Islands: an Issue of International Aid". Natural Resources Forum, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 215-223.