The broader context

The total land area of most small island developing states is small relative to other countries and they can ill afford to lose land mass to rising sea level. Small size means a limited resource base. Hence, SID economies depend upon a limited number of products. The relative risk of saltwater intrusion into the groundwater supply can be pronounced for small islands.

Many small island states are located far from major trade routes, which raises the cost of imports. It is likely that small island states will become increasingly dependent upon imported food and construction materials as a result of climate change in order to compensate for less productive farming and fishing and to build the necessary infrastructure for adaptation. Remoteness also makes the provision of outside emergency relief slower and more difficult, an important consideration in a future that promises more extreme weather events. The islands within archipelago states are sometimes even remote from each other, complicating coordination and communication. The archipelagos of Micronesia cover an area the size of the continental US.

Many small island states consist of low-lying islands, making them extremely vulnerable to a rise in sea level. A single flood can cripple an entire island for weeks. With limited higher ground, people are left more exposed to flooding as well as to tropical storms and hurricanes. A few low-lying island states (e.g. the Maldives and Kiribati) are already forming contingency plans to evacuate their populations (see Box 14.1).

It is becoming increasingly clear that marine ecosystems will be especially hard hit by the effects of anthropogenic carbon emissions. Coral bleaching and ocean acidification are already causing reefs to collapse and these impacts are likely to grow worse in the future. Marine ecosystems are the basis of many small island economies, driving fishing and tourism industries. Damage to coral reefs can also jeopardize an island's food security. Coral reef damage is just a precursor to shoreline problems to come.

A large percentage of island populations and infrastructure is situated near the coast. Many islands are so small and narrow that coastal living is the only option available. The impacts of rising sea level and tropical storms are most intense near the coast.

Atoll and reef islands are made of porous calcium carbonate from ancient coral reefs and, as a result, flood from within. Many of these islands also have

Box 14.1 Maldives to buy new homeland as sea levels rise

The Maldives will begin to divert a portion of the country's billion dollar annual tourist revenue into buying a new homeland - possibly in Australia - as an insurance policy against climate change that threatens to turn the 300,000 islanders into environmental refugees, the country's first democratically elected president has said.

Source: Randeep Ramesh in the Sydney Morning Herald, 11 November 2008

poor soil for farming, which is only made worse by salt deposits left from tidal flooding.

Many SIDS are far from being wealthy countries. In fact, a number of them are among the group of least developed countries. Small island states are rarely equipped with tidal barriers and coastal reinforcements necessary to weather the higher tides of the future. Nor will they be able to pay for these enhancements to infrastructure on their own. In some cases, the cost of protecting entire islands from rising sea level and storm surges will be prohibitive.

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