SMALL ISLAND DEVELOPING STATES (SIDS) & CLIMATE CHANGE
The UN General Assembly declared 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). World Environment Day (WED) 2014 was celebrated under the theme of SIDS, with the goal of raising awareness of their unique development challenges and successes regarding a range of environmental problems, including climate change, waste management, unsustainable consumption, degradation of natural resources, and extreme natural disasters.
Climate change is a major challenge for SIDs, as global warming is causing ocean level to rise. Due to their small size and isolation, SIDs are more vulnerable to natural & environmental disasters, climate change & sea level rise. However some of these islands have also been successful in overcoming their environmental problems. From Palau to Puerto Rico, the stories of resiliency and innovation abound. For instance, Tokelau recently began producing 100% of its energy from solar sources. In Fiji, lacking the resources to make new drainage systems and seawalls, local residents are restoring mangroves and coral reefs to help prevent flooding and erosion. These stories and solutions can be applied to environmental concerns all over the world. The problems that they face are: climate change, waste management, unsustainable consumption, degradation of natural resources, extreme natural disasters in most of over population and continuing industrialization.
The effect of climate change was witnessed by us too in J&K State, with an elongated winter this year with frequent rains and snowfall in hilly areas even in the month of May. This has adversely affected our agriculture, horticulture, floriculture causing late sowing of seeds/saplings, late pollination of fruit trees, late blooming of flowers like tulips etc. respectively. Even in the month of June we still feel comparatively lower temperatures in the mornings & evenings. Besides the other threats of pollution of our water bodies, air & noise pollution, inadequate solid & liquid waste management, forest denudation etc. persist despite Kashmir being branded as heaven on earth.
Stop killing our oceans:
In her book “The Sea Around us” Rachel Carson saw the oceans as one last haven safe for ever. How it could be otherwise, when the oceans are so vast that continents are mere islands in their midst, so deep that a Mount Everest could be lost beneath their surface? How does one pollute a volume of almost 320 million cubic miles? How poison an environment so rich that it harbors 200,000 species of life?
Even though the oceans blanket three fourths of earth, their productivity is limited mostly to the narrow bands of undersea land existing from coastlines which comprise the continental shelves. 80% of the world’s salt water – fish catches taken from these shallow coastal waters, which make up only a tiny fraction of the total sea. In addition almost 70% of all usable fish & shell fish spend a crucial part of their lives in the estuaries- the coastal bays, tidelands & river mouths that are 20 times more fertile than the open sea, seven times more fertile than a wheat field. Cut the chain of life in these areas, destroy the myriad bottom organisms, pollute the continental shelf waters & you will also eliminate the vital ocean fisheries.
Already pollution or overfishing & sometimes both have gouged fisheries around the world. Meanwhile in a headlong rush to create more land , vital coastal tidelands are being filled for highways, industry, bridges and water front homes. At the same time the remaining estuaries are fed billions of gallons of sewage & industrial waste every day. These poison fish choke our oyster & render the bays & tidelands unfit for anything.
Pressure also builds on the oceans beyond, for instance in 1968 some 48 million tons of solid wastes were carried out by barges and ships& dumped in ocean waters of the USA. These wastes included garbage, waste oil, dredging spoils, industrial acids, caustics, cleaners & sledges, airplane parts, junked automobiles & spoiled food. During the two papyrus boat trips across the Atlantic, author explorer Thor Heyerdahl sighted plastic bottles, squeeze tubes, oil & other trash that had somehow been swept by the currents to mid-ocean. On some days the crew hesitated to wash because of the amount of pollution. Ugly brown raw sewage is piped from Miami beach Florida that sprawls over blue green waves. Fishermen, divers & others report similar situations all along US coast lines & many other parts of the world.
” Stop dumping of wastes in to the sea, the big & small lakes & coastal areas, our rivers & bays except for treated liquid wastes equal to natural quality of the ocean waters. Instead recycle wastes back in to economy.
” Set tough controls before undertaking new ocean activities such as buildings, off shore jet ports & drilling off shore oil wells in new areas.
” Halt the reckless dredging & filling of priceless tidelands & carving of ocean front in the name of progress.
With the present trend the marine biologists predict that it will put an end to significant life in the sea in 50 years or less. This would be a catastrophe posing grave consequences to a world dependent on these vital resources for food, raw materials, recreation & in the near future, probably living space.
The largest island in the world is Greenland. Australia is considered a continent because it has unique plant and animal life. Antarctica also is a continent – larger than Europe and Australia. Greenland, although quite big, shares the habitat features of Northern America.
The smallest island in the world – according to the Guinness Book of Records – is Bishop Rock. It lies at the most south-westerly part of the United Kingdom. It is one of 1040 islands around Britain and only has a lighthouse on it. In 1861, the British government set out the parameters for classifying an island. It was decided that if it was inhabited, the size was immaterial. However, if it was uninhabited, it had to be “the summer’s pasturage of at least one sheep” – which is about two acres.
A lot of standing room – not much else. This is Bishop Rock, the world’s smallest island.
Going by the above parameters, most of the 179 584 “islands” around Finland and the almost 200 000 around Canada would not match Indonesia as the country with the most islands. In fact, Indonesia consists only of islands – 13 667 of them, 6000 of which are inhabited.
The remotest uninhabited island is Bouvet Island in the South Atlantic. The remotest inhabited island in the world is Tristan da Cunha. It is in the South Atlantic, 2575 km (1600 miles) south of St Helena, which is an island a few hundred kilometres (miles) off the coast of South Africa. Tristan da Cunha has no TV but it has one radio station. The population totals 242 and they only have 7 surnames (last names) between them, so they are all related. Tristan da Cunha does have a capital, called Edinburgh of the South Seas.
The smallest independent island country is the Pacific island of Nauru. It measures 21,28 sq km (8.2 sq mi). (Only the Vatican City and Monaco are smaller countries.)
Of the 6 billion+ people in the world, one out of ten lives on an island (600 million). Which is not so hard to imagine when you consider that more than 240 million people live in Indonesia alone – and some 61 million live in Britain, the only island connected to a continent through the chunnel (tunnel under the sea).
Here I would like to reproduce the extracts of the report of Mr. Ronny Jumeau Seychelles Ambassador for Climate Change and SIDS issues on Expert Group Meeting on Oceans, Seas and Sustainable Development: Implementation and follow-up to Rio+20 at United Nations Headquarters 18-19 April 2013 and here I quote:
“While oceans play a key role in everyone’s lives, no one is more dependent on them than the small, vulnerable and isolated island developing states surrounded by the seas. Oceans are now firmly established on the global agenda after taking center stage at Rio+20 last year. However, the SIDS’ unique dependence on the marine environment means the oceans have commanded center stage in our development since humankind has been on the islands. We are the ocean people, so to speak: we live off and by the oceans and to varying degrees on and for them as well. The oceans define who we are and the coastal and marine environment is an integral part of our island lifestyle. Our islands may be small in land area, but we morph into large ocean states when our exclusive economic zones are factored in. Tuvalu’s EEZ for example, is 27,000 times the size of its land. The Republic of Kiribati, the largest small island developing state in terms of ocean territory, has the 13th largest exclusive economic zone on Earth. SIDS are the custodians of no fewer than 15, or 30 per cent, of the 50 largest EEZs.
Dependence on oceans
In the case of many islands, Seychelles, our no 1 pillar of the economy is marine-based tourism. It provides 26 per cent of GDP, 30 per cent of jobs and 70 per cent of foreign exchange earnings in a country where more than 80 per cent of what we consume is imported, mostly by sea. Fisheries, our second biggest industry, add another eight per cent to our GDP. Such a heavy dependence on oceans is repeated across the SIDS. Oceans are central to our sustainable development, to poverty reduction and achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and to our post-2015 development agenda. And yet, despite our best efforts to help ourselves, the lack of technical, institutional, technological and financial support means we are still to benefit to the fullest from our marine resources. Where we do benefit, it is not necessarily in the most sustainable manner.
It is no surprise therefore, that the small island developing states formed the loudest cheering section when the oceans won big at Rio+20.There definitely needs to be an international instrument regulating the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. SIDS therefore welcome Rio+20’s call for a United Nations General Assembly decision to develop such an instrument under the Convention on the Law of the Sea by next year.
Nowhere are the effects of marine pollution more deeply felt and damaging than in the small island countries entirely surrounded by the ocean. This is especially so in SIDS like mine whose economies are heavily dependent on the state and indeed the attractiveness of our beaches, coastal waters, coral reefs and fisheries.
Sea Level Rise
The most serious long-term threat to SIDS is of course sea level rise which threatens to cover many of us with the oceans, thus turning the blue planet even bluerﾅthat is if we are not swept away first by coastal erosion which will be made worse by the slow collapse of dying reefs.
Ocean acidification is the single greatest threat to coral reefs which provide SIDS with food and income. They also protect us from the ocean waves and tidal currents which, as extreme weather events such as storm surges and abnormally high tides intensify, threaten to sweep away some islands before they are covered by sea level rise.
Rio+20 drew attention to the important economic, social and environmental contribution of coral reefs, especially to islands and other coastal states, and the high vulnerability of coral reefs and mangroves to such impacts as climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing, destructive fishing practices and pollution, among others. Indeed, the growing pressures on coral reefs may cause them to be the first marine ecosystem to collapse.
Marine Protected Areas
SIDS thus see conservation measures such as marine protected areas not just as a way to protect our ocean biodiversity and resources, but also as a tool for sustainable development, because for us marine biodiversity has significant socio-economic and cultural value.
Finally on fisheries, I would like to return to the Rio+20 outcome document The Future We Want, specifically paragraph 168. In it we commit to intensify efforts and take measures to meet the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation’s 2015 target to maintain or restore stocks to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield in the shortest time feasible. Once again the effect of illegal, unreported and unregulated or IUU fishing is most felt in those countries that depend most heavily on fisheries like the small island developing states. We place strong emphasis on paragraph 174 of The Future We Want. This urges that by next year there be strategies to further help developing states, especially the least developed and SIDS, develop their national capacity to conserve, sustainably manage and realize the benefits of sustainable fisheries, including through improved market access for their fish products. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this to small island developing states. In the Pacific
SIDS, for example, the tuna fishery alone contributes more than 10 per cent of GDP and in some islands more than 50 per cent of exports. It is estimated that fish contributes at least 50 per cent of total animal protein intake in some SIDS. There certainly is no lack of international instruments in fisheries: they cover straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, responsible fisheries and IUU fishing. What has been lacking is the political will to effectively implement and enforce them. As I showed in the examples I gave earlier, SIDS certainly do not lack political will or innovative thinking: what we lack is capacity – technical, institutional, technological and financial” -en quote.