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Figure 16.3. The main steps of a community vulnerability and adaptation assessment and action approach.

Several pilot communities in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu are already using this approach to analyse their options and decide on the best course of action to address their vulnerability and adaptation needs.

Source: Sutherland et al. (2005).

drivers of development (Kerr, 2005). In this context, the development of adaptation measures in response to climate change may provide an appropriate avenue to integrate both local and global forces towards island development that is sustainable, providing that local communities are involved (Tran, 2006).

Another positive factor is that many small islands have considerable experience in adapting to climate variability. In the case of Cyprus, for example, Tsiourtis (2002) explains that the island has consistently taken steps to alleviate the adverse effects arising from water scarcity, which is likely to be one of the important effects of climate change. This experience already features in development strategies adopted by Cyprus. A similar argument has also been made by Briguglio (2000) with regard to the Maltese Islands, referring to the islands' exposure to climatic seasonal variability which, historically, has led to individuals and administrations taking measures associated with retreat, accommodation and protection strategies. For example, residential settlements in Malta are generally situated away from low-lying coastal areas, and primitive settlements on the island tended to be located in elevated places. Maltese houses are built of sturdy materials, and are generally able to withstand storms and heavy rains. Temperatures and precipitation rates in Malta change drastically between mid-winter and mid-summer, and this has led to the accumulation of considerable experience in adaptation to climate variability.

However, as mentioned earlier, small islands face many constraints in trying to mainstream climate change into their sustainable development strategies. These include their very limited resources, especially given the indivisibilities of overhead expenditures and hidden costs involved in adaptation measures, particularly in infrastructural projects. Another problem may relate to possible social and/or political conflicts, particularly to do with land use and resources (Westmacott, 2002), though not exclusively (Lane, 2006). Notwithstanding this observation, most decisions regarding the critical issues of land use, energy use and transportation infrastructure in small islands will not have any meaningful influence on the rate and magnitude of climate change worldwide. However, they may have a significant moral and ethical impact in the climate change arena, as well as contributing to reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions and to small island sustainable development.

16.7 Key uncertainties and research gaps

Small islands are sensitive to climate change and sea-level rise, and adverse consequences of climate change and variability are already a 'reality' for many inhabitants of small islands. This assessment has found that many small islands lack adequate observational data and, as noted in the TAR, outputs from AOGCMs are not of sufficiently fine resolution to provide specific information for islands. These deficiencies need to be addressed, so that remaining uncertainties can be reduced, and national and local-scale adaptation strategies for small islands better defined.

As the impacts of climate change become increasingly evident, autonomous small islands, like other countries, will probably be confronted with the need to implement adaptation strategies with greater urgency. However, for these strategies to be effective, they should reflect the fact that natural and human systems in small islands are being simultaneously subjected to other non-climate stresses including population growth, competition for limited resources, ecosystem degradation, and the dynamics of social change and economic transformation. Therefore, responses to climate change need to be properly coordinated and integrated with socio-economic development policies and environmental conservation. The enhancement of resilience at various levels of society, through capacity building, efficient resource allocation and the mainstreaming of climate risk management into development policies at the national and local scale, could constitute a key element of the adaptation strategy.

16.7.1 Observations and climate change science

• Ongoing observation is required to monitor the rate and magnitude of changes and impacts, over different spatial and temporal scales. In situ observations of sea level should be strengthened to understand the components of relative sea-level change on regional and local scales. While there has been considerable progress in regional projections of sea level since the TAR, such projections have not been fully utilised in small islands because of the greater uncertainty attached to them, as opposed to global projections.

• Since the TAR, it has also been recognised that other climate-change-induced factors will probably have impacts on coastal systems and marine territories of small islands, including rises in sea temperature and changes in ocean chemistry and wave climate. The monitoring of these and other marine variables in the seas adjacent to small islands would need to be expanded and projections developed.

• Although future projections of mean air temperature are rather consistent among climate models, projections for changes in precipitation, tropical cyclones and wind direction and strength, which are critical concerns for small islands, remain uncertain. Projections based on outputs at finer resolution are needed to inform the development of reliable climate change scenarios for small islands. Regional Climate Models (RCMs) and statistical downscaling techniques may prove to be useful tools in this regard, as the outputs are more applicable to countries at the scale of small islands. These approaches could lead to improved vulnerability assessments and the identification of more appropriate adaptation options.

• Supporting efforts by small islands and their partners to arrest the decline of, and expand, observational networks should be continued. The Pacific Islands Global Climate Observing System (PI-GCOS) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Sub-Commission for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions Global Ocean Observing System (IOCARIBE-GOOS) are two examples of regional observing networks whose coverage should be expanded to cover other island regions.

• Hydrological conditions, water supply and water usage on small islands pose quite different research problems from those in continental situations. These need to be investigated and modelled over the range of island types covering different geology, topography and land cover, and in light of the most recent climate change scenarios and projections.

16.7.2 Impacts and adaptation

• A decade ago, many small islands were the subject of vulnerability assessments to climate change. Such assessments were based on simplistic scenarios, with an emphasis on sea-level rise, and the application of a common methodology that was applied to many small islands throughout the world. The results were initially summarised in the IPCC Second Assessment Report (IPCC, 1996), with later and more comprehensive studies being reported in the TAR. Since then the momentum for vulnerability and impact studies appears to have declined, such that in the present assessment we can cite few robust investigations of climate change impacts on small islands using more recent scenarios and more precise projections. Developing a renewed international agenda to assess the vulnerability of small islands, based on the most recent projections and newly available tools, would provide small islands with a firmer basis for future planning.

• Our assessment has identified several key areas and gaps that are under-represented in contemporary research on the impacts of climate change on small islands. These include:-

- the role of coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, coral reefs and beaches in providing natural defences against sea-level rise and storms;

- establishing the response of terrestrial upland and inland ecosystems, including woodlands, grasslands and wetlands, to changes in mean temperature and rainfall and extremes;

- considering how commercial agriculture, forestry and fisheries, as well as subsistence agriculture, artisanal fishing and food security, will be impacted by the combination of climate change and non-climate-related forces;

- expanding knowledge of climate-sensitive diseases in small islands through national and regional research, not only for vector-borne diseases but for skin, respiratory and water-borne diseases;

- given the diversity of 'island types' and locations, identifying the most vulnerable systems and sectors, according to island type.

• In contrast to the other regions in this assessment, there is also an absence of demographic and socio-economic scenarios and projections for small islands. Nor have future changes in socio-economic conditions on small islands been well presented in existing assessments (e.g., IPCC, 2001; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2003). Developing more appropriate scenarios for assessing the impacts of climate change on the human systems of small islands remains a challenge.

• Methods to project exposures to climate stimuli and non-climate stresses at finer spatial scales should be developed, in order to further improve understanding of the potential consequences of climate variability and change, particularly extreme weather and climate events. In addition, further resources need to be applied to the development of appropriate methods and tools for identifying critical thresholds for both bio-geophysical and socio-economic systems on islands.

• Our evaluation of adaptation in small islands suggests that the understanding of adaptive capacity and adaptation options is still at an early stage of development. Although several potential constraints on, as well as opportunities for, adaptation were identified, two features became apparent. First, the application of some adaptation measures commonly used in continental situations poses particular challenges in a small island setting. Examples include insurance, where there is a small population pool although the propensity for natural disasters is high and where local resilience may be undermined by economic liberalisation. Second, some adaptation measures appear to be advocated particularly for small islands and not elsewhere. Examples include emigration and resettlement, the use of traditional knowledge, and responses to short-term extreme events as a model for adaptation to climate change. Results of studies of each of these issues suggest some ambiguities and the need for further research, including the assessment of practical outcomes that enhance adaptive capacity and resilience.

• With respect to technical measures, countries may wish to pay closer attention to the traditional technologies and skills that have allowed island communities to cope successfully with climate variability in the past. However, as it is uncertain whether the traditional technologies and skills are sufficient to reduce the adverse consequence of climate change, these may need to be combined with modern knowledge and technologies, where appropriate.

• Local capacity should be strengthened in the areas of environmental assessment and management, modelling, economic and social development planning related to climate change, and adaptation and mitigation in small islands. This objective should be pursued through the application of participatory approaches to capacity building and institutional change.

• Access to reliable and affordable energy is a vital element in most small islands, where the high cost of energy is regarded as a barrier to the goal of attaining sustainable development. Research and development into energy options appropriate to small islands could help in both adaptation and mitigation strategies whilst also enhancing the prospect of achieving sustainable growth.


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